Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review of THE DICTATOR (2012)

- Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images.
- Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, John C. Reilly, Megan Fox
- Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer
- Directed by Larry Charles
- Running time: 1hr 23min

I was a little late to jump on the Sacha Baron Cohen band wagon.  Not that I'm really on it.  I never saw Da Ali G show, I thought BORAT was overrated, but thought that BRUNO was surprisingly funny.  Now, Cohen is back with another outrageous, politically incorrect character to cause an outrage within conservative communities.

This time Cohen plays a middle eastern dictator named Aladeen, pretty much a harsh parody on any of those other dictators like Hussein or Bin Laden.  The plot is only there so Cohen can say absurd shit and do outrageous things to shock the audience, but here it is:  Aladeen goes to America for some meeting, but is captured and gets his beard shaved off.  He escapes, but can't return to his hotel cause no one believes he is Aladeen.  During a protest rally he meets feminist Zoey (Anna Faris) and she takes him in (not knowing who he really is), letting him work at her health food store.  Oh yeah, and there's something about one of Aladeen's advisors (Ben Kingsley) who turns against him.  He hires an idiot double to replace Aladeen so he can have more control.

Like I said, the real reason to see this is for the jokes.  Is it funny?  Sometimes.  I would say there were about 3 or 4 segments when I laughed very hard, a few when I chuckled and several when I just kept a straight face.  Sacha Baron Cohen has grown on me through the years, after seeing him in SWEENEY TODD and HUGO.  I think he's really good at dedicating himself to a character, completely losing himself.  In fact, I would probably compare him to Peter Sellers. But just like Sellers, not every film he made was great (or even good for that matter).  Aladeen is a bit of a one joke pony.  He mispronounces things, bluntly offends people, orders his men to be executed constantly, has sex with celebrities (Megan Fox has an unfunny cameo), and wants to take over the world.  Most of the humor is of the fish-out-of-water variety, and not much of it works.  It's a tired formula.  The supporting cast is there just to give Cohen room to be silly, though Anna Faris gives a fairly brave comedic performance as a hairy arm-pitted naturalist.  But the normally hilarious John C. Reilly is wasted, and I'm getting real sick of Ben Kinglsey playing the straight man in comedies.  Why not let him in on the joke,  I know he can be funny.  But instead he just look like he wants to be elsewhere. 

This film is much bigger in scope compared to the crude grainy look of BORAT and BRUNO.  It's shot in widescreen and on better film stock.  Also, the movie actually seems to be scripted, having more traditional plot this time.  But trying to make a film bigger doesn't make it better.  Unlike the first two (which felt fresh and spontaneous), THE DICTATOR feels forced and flat most of the time.  There were a few inspired moments, like when Aladeen tries to deliver a baby, we get to see the perspective from inside the vagina.  That was funny, but also because that sequence featured the hilarious Kathryn Haun.  There are many tasteless jokes (some being humorous) about 9/11, women's hygiene, pubic hair, abortion ("Are you going to have a boy, or an abortion"; I laughed at that, I admit), and many other topical things.  The movie tries to hit the funny bone with a scattershot gun, but only hits the target about half the time.  It misses just as often as it hits.  Oh yeah, and it wouldn't be a Sacha Baron Cohen raunchy comedy without seeing his penis (mushed up against a window, no less).  Yay!

Dedicated Cohen fans will probably eat this up, but I can also see many of them getting tired with it.  I would definitely like Cohen to try something a little different as a lead actor.  He also needs to work with another filmmaker other than Larry Charles, who just isn't that good.  The filmmaking is pretty sloppy.  Too bad Blake Edwards isn't alive making films anymore, because I could definitely see Cohen making some classics with him.  There were some unforgettable humorous moments in this, but there were also many forgettable moments.  People just looking for stupid, inappropriate humor that don't mind sloppy filmmaking and storytelling will be more tolerant of it.  Comedy is so subjective, that it's hard to say what people will like.  I just know what I think, and I think it's time for Cohen to try something even more daring: a comedy that has artistic merit.  I know that's not fair to say, since this isn't what they were trying to do here, but I think it's time for him to move on.

Alot of people will love the offensive humor, calling it ballsy.  But this is being released a few weeks after Bobcat Goldthwait's GOD BLESS AMERICA, which is way more offensive and even more provocative.  If you like your humor dark, see that one instead.  It definitely hits the mark on topical humor much more than THE DICTATOR.  

** (out of ****)

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