Tessa Thompson as Detroit and Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green star in director Boots Riley's "Sorry to Bother You."

Tessa Thompson as Detroit and Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green star in director Boots Riley's "Sorry to Bother You."

/Annapurna Pictures

Movie dystopias can take many forms, most of them shot through with action, heroism and gloom. But nightmares of the future can also be funny, as any fan of Idiocracy can tell you. Sorry to Bother You is cut from a similarly absurdist cloth, even when its laughter rings out like a choked scream.

It's not often you see a comedy that doubles as a scathing critique of late-stage capitalism, but that's exactly what we have here. The hero, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), is an Oakland telemarketer trying to keep the roof of his uncle's garage apartment over his head. As the movie opens, he's interviewing for a gig at a sort of chop-shop telemarketing company, the kind with a blank personality and endless rows of desks and phones. Cassius gets the job, and we get a barehanded jab of hard-edged surrealism coming our way.

Played by the nimble-eyed Lakeith Stanfield, the man who yelled "Get out!" in Get Out, Cassius fumbles along until an older coworker (Danny Glover) tells him about the magic of the white voice. We're not talking Eddie Murphy's white voice, which was used to great comedic effect back in the day. Sorry to Bother You goes all-in, using David Cross to dub Cassius and Patton Oswalt to dub his mentor. It's a sign that Sorry to Bother You is playing for keeps, and it's only a teaser for the film's boldest strokes, which are best left unrevealed.

Cassius' girlfriend (Tessa Thompson), a visual and performance artist, thinks the white voice is kind of weird but she's OK with it — until he gets kicked upstairs to be a Power Caller and leaves his striking masses of coworkers behind. Meanwhile the film sprinkles in TV ads and billboards for Worry Free, a corporation that provides module housing and three meals a day, as long as you sign a lifetime contract.

Are the Power Callers connected to Worry Free? Are there unseen, nefarious forces at work? Does the movie answer all these questions?

Sort of. Sorry to Bother You manages its magical socialist realism better than it handles narrative momentum and coherence. It doesn't quite seem to know how or when it wants to end. Some plot points pile up and stubbornly refuse to gel. How much any of that bothers you will depend on your appreciation for the bizarro twists and details, and for the acuity of the film's observations on how race and money murk up the American Dream.

My appreciation for these factors runs pretty high. I like films that take big chances, and first-time writer-director Boots Riley, known primarily as the leader of the progressive hip-hop group the Coup, doesn't half-step. Sorry to Bother You swings from its heels, and when it hits, it hits hard. It helps that Stanfield and Thompson are both enormously appealing as a young couple trying to hang on to their sense of self without going broke.

Sorry to Bother You commits to a topsy-turvy vision and mixes in enough of the real world to make the satire pop. In this world the future is now, and it feels like now, from reality TV run wild to the rage of the 99 percent. This is either an angry movie with a wild sense of fun, or a fun movie with an angry streak. It's an ode to the working person, projected in a hall of mirrors.

Sorry to Bother You (B+)
R (for pervasive language, sexual content, graphic nudity and drug use). 105 minutes. In wide release.

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