[Review] – The Dictator

30 May

Title: The Dictator
Year: 2012
Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly, B.J. Novak, Chris Elliott, Fred Armisen, Jason Mantzoukas
MPAA Rating: R, strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images
Runtime: 83 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 59%
Metacritic: 58

Sacha Baron Cohen is one of those guys who you either love or you hate because of how wildly provocative and occasionally offensive he likes to be. I personally was a huge fan of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, I thought that film was pretty damn masterful in how it was so hilariously offensive, and it was a perfect showcase for Mr. Baron Cohen’s particular brand of comedy that relies on people not knowing they’re being filmed while he’s in character.

He followed that huge introduction to his style with Brüno, another film in which he became a character and gave us a mockumentary full of crude and hilarious moments at the expense of other people. Brüno, though still very funny, wasn’t quite Borat; maybe that whole shtick of a character taking the piss out of people with shocking things was a one-time thing and now that the cat was out of the bag it wouldn’t work as well. Still, Mr. Baron Cohen used the fame achieved from those films to get supporting roles in really great films, like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and last year’s brilliant masterpiece Hugo (my #1 film of 2011), something that he’ll continue to do later this year with supporting roles in Les Misérables and Django Unchained.

Before we see him work for Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino, though, we’re getting another team-up with Larry Charles, the director of Borat and Brüno, which means another go-round with one of Mr. Baron Cohen’s unique creations. This time the character is Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the North African Republic of Wadiya, a childish, chauvinistic and racist man. And the film itself, The Dictator, is the first time Mr. Baron Cohen has given us a film in which he stars that’s not a mockumentary, and the result, though most certainly very uneven at times, is still quite offensive in the funniest of ways, and ends up being a pretty good comedy.

The main plot line has Aladeen going to New York to address the UN Council after they have decided to proceed with military intervention in his nation after hearing about his plans to develop nuclear weapons and ban the sale of Wadiyan oil. But then he’s kidnapped by a hitman, played by John C. Reilly, under the orders of Aladeen’s evil uncle Tamir, played by Ben Kingsley, who then uses a look-alike decoy to address the world, make Wadiya an actual democracy, and allow for their oil to be sold. Aladeen escapes his captors, however, but his full beard has been shaven so nobody believes he’s the real dictator, which means that the film will then be all about him trying to regain his rightful place and the relationship that blossoms between him and Zoey, an activist who offers him a job, played by Anna Faris. And if you’re a regular reader of mine then you’ll know how fond I am of Anna Faris.

Now, while I liked The Dictator enough, and I would recommend it to people fond of Mr. Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy, I also thought that the awkward situations that he puts his newest creation in worked far, far better when they were in a mockumentary style in which you saw the reactions of people around him. Here they’re funny, but they’re not as offensively funny, if you get what I mean, so this one never really comes close to achieving the heights reached by some of his past creations.

That lack of a rebellious spirit, that he displayed with such unrelenting conviction before, hurts this film because Mr. Baron Cohen’s potential is most fully realized when he’s at his ballsiest best, and because The Dictator, by being his first narrative effort with these characters, definitely falls into a far more generic direction, he can’t be all of that. Still, that criticism comes with some praise, too, because to be boxed in by some genre conventions by playing (slightly) by the rules for the first time in his life, and to still be able to get these results is pretty great. Yes, this can be both offensive, tasteless even, but you should know by now that’s what you’re getting yourself into with this guy.

In that respect, the fact that Mr. Baron Cohen is able to pull this kind of stuff off, and that he has done so successfully repeatedly, you kind of have to think he’s one of the very best comedic voices working in cinema right now. Because even if this film is conventional by his standards, because it has a definite plot, and even plays through some rom-com conventions, he’s still doing what he does best, which is being disgusting and offensive. And he does all of that without ever once overstaying his welcome; The Dictator clocks at 83 minutes, that’s more than enough time to laugh your ass off, but not quite enough for you to realize that this is all kind of wrong.

Though using the plot to guide the film along, and occasionally checking in to see the progress of the romance between Aladeen and Zoey, as well as the plot to get Aladeen killed and then back to the throne, The Dictator is much more concerned with providing his star as many chances as possible for some offensive slapstick comedy. This is an actor that’s very gifted at physical comedy after all, and even if his anarchic spirit is (somewhat) reigned in the genre confinements, that’s all still most certainly on display.

Would I recommend The Dictator, then? Yes, I most definitely would. Sure, it’s not as good as Borat, but it’s a short movie that comes in, really quickly proceeds to be super dirty and offensive, and then gets out. You can’t ask for much more during the summer movie season when it’s all about escapism. I just wish this weren’t such an uneven film, I think that for all the good things Mr. Baron Cohen brings to the table, Mr. Charles lets him down; there’s just something wrong with how he paces some scenes, and the editing I definitely found to be a bit shoddy. Still though, for Mr. Baron Cohen’s performance alone, The Dictator is worthy of a recommendation, and boy how I loved to see Anna Faris finally get a worthy comedic sparring partner, she needs to become a big star.

Grade: B

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One Response to “[Review] – The Dictator”

  1. colincarman May 31, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Agreed, delivered some laughs (reviewed its raunch as well); write on!

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