Standout thesping by stars Dorian Missick and Zoe Saldana, along with fully fleshed-out secondary roles, distinguish Pete Chatmon’s gentle comedy “Premium,” about a black actor juggling concurrent crises on the love, work and home fronts. While the satirizing of black stereotypical movie roles was angrier and funnier in Robert Townsend’s breakthrough 1987 laffer, “Hollywood Shuffle,” Chatmon’s laid-back rhythms smack more of soft-shoe than shuffle in this thoroughly engaging film. With careful handling, marginal indie could provide an unpretentious alternative to raucous mainstream fare.
Reginald Coolidge, aka “Reggie” or “Cool” (Missick), is having a very bad day. He is forcibly ejected from a casting call after pulling a fake gun on a young African-American director who demands he be more “black.”
Furthermore, his mother (Tonya Pinkins) is moving, leaving him without a place to lay his head. Lastly, his ex-fiancee Charli (Saldana) shows up in town and announces she is marrying someone else in two days.
Normally unflappable Reggie must simultaneously try to land a role, not get fired from his gas-pumping day job and woo back his lady fair, all the while shuttling back and forth between his New Jersey hometown and his Gotham auditions.
Reggie’s scenes with Charli ring subtle variations on time-honored romantic comedy tropes in wry accordance with Murphy’s law. Sometimes, a Ralph Bellamy-type “third leg” is brought into the mix in amusingly awkward tete-a-tetes with Charli’s unsuspecting upscale lawyer fiance (Hill Harper), though the pain is far more evenly apportioned here. Chatmon’s script delivers quiet surprises as love turns out to not quite conquer all. But it is in Reggie’s exchanges with supposedly minor characters that pic unexpectedly shines.
The droll clashes between Reggie and his exasperatedly loving mother and her gruff live-in b.f. (Frankie Faison) slowly nudge the character out of his overextended co-dependency toward responsibility. But his bickering banter with his white allies — including co-worker Derick (Keith Nobbs) and theatrical agent Cole Carter (William Sadler) –is played strictly for laughs.
Tech credits are OK, with K. A. Chisholm’s crisp yet casual editing particularly fine. However, pic often looks and sounds hollowly underpopulated, with a dearth of ambient physical and audio presence.