Stretched beyond its limits, Death of a Telemarketer is never funny enough, and its hostage plot makes as much sense as a senseless cold call.
Telemarketers, and their profession as a whole, rely on a certain brand of dishonesty, as the job requires them to come up with creative ways to keep potential brands online. The competition is brutal, the work environment almost always borders on toxic, and the world of high-pressure cold calling is extremely fierce. These realistic aspects of the telemarketing industry are well captured in Khaled Ridgeway’s book Death of a telemarketer, which is otherwise a bland comedy that elicits a few scattered laughs. Extended beyond its limits, Death of a telemarketer is never funny enough, and its hostage plot makes about as much sense as a mindless cold call.
Telemarketer Ace Kasey (Lamorne Morris) is unrepentantly ahead of the game, a Telewin star, selling phone and internet connections to unsuspecting customers in any twisted way that earns a sale. An unsympathetic character from the start, Kasey is determined to win Telewin’s sales content in order to earn a hefty commission, which he plans to use to pay off his payday loans. After the other telemarketers are urged (almost threatened) to adopt the Kasey method, rookie employee Barry (Woody McClain) significantly outperforms Kasey. Desperate to make it work, Kasey goes to bed late and decides to try his luck on the banned do not call list.
The ridiculously capitalistic model on which the industry thrives is accurately portrayed, as one of the employees is fired on the spot for his inability to lie and cheat, while Kasey is applauded for his fraudulent techniques. In the midst of it all, Kasey tries to win back his girlfriend Christine (Alisha Wainwright) with a romantic dinner but is unable to do so for the unfortunate events that ensue that night. With only 30 minutes to beat Barry’s record, Kasey attempts to scam a Mr. Asa (Jackie Earle Haley), posing as his old friend, only to be told he died some time ago. Things take an even murkier turn when Asa shows up at Telewin and holds Kasey hostage at gunpoint, demanding that he apologize to all do-not-call list subscribers on behalf of all telemarketers.
The first half of Death of a telemarketer is a bit slow and clunky, with the jokes managing to elicit a laugh here and there. Nothing is meant to be taken too seriously, of course, as this is comedy at its core. But when the overall tone shifts from comedic to slow-paced, it’s hard to care about everything that’s happening on screen. Morris does his best to put himself in the shoes of Kasey, a telemarketer who is objectively irredeemable, but only a few of his offhand jokes and comments land, if at all. The rest of the characters, including those who take Kasey hostage, seem incompetent but still manage to get the upper hand, and these scenes are devoid of tension or logic of any kind.
Ridgeway obviously wanted the title to reflect that of Arthur Miller Death of a seller to comic effect, but the intended effect seems more vapid as the film progresses. Just like the protagonist, who remains sincere until the very end, Death of a telemarketer has an air of duplicity about it, which doesn’t quite work in the film’s favor. For someone dubbed a smooth talker, Kasey is certainly incapable of picking up basic emotive rhythms in a conversation, and that fallacy extends to the film as a whole, causing it to slip as it progresses. Maybe if Death of a telemarketer were 30 minutes shorter, it could have improved on its already worn and joyless plot.
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Death of a telemarketer had a limited release on December 3, 2021 and was released on digital on January 25, 2022. The film is 89 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout, some violence, and sexual references.
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