DICTATOR, THE (director: Larry Charles; screenwriters: Sacha Baron Cohen/Alec Berg/David Mandel/Jeff Schaffer; cinematographer: Lawrence Sher; editors: Greg Hayden/Eric Kissack; music: Erran Baron Cohen; cast: Sacha Baron Cohen (Admiral General Aladeen), Anna Faris (Zoey), Ben Kingsley (Tamir), Jason Mantzoukas (Nadal), Fred Armisen (Waiter), John C. Reilly (American agent), Bobby Lee (Chinese capitalist), Megan Fox (Herself); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sacha Baron Cohen/Mr. Berg/Mr. Mandel/Mr. Schaffer/Todd Schulman/Anthony Hines/Scott Rudin; Paramount Pictures; 2012)
“Cohen is beginning to lose much of his early shock luster.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
No one should mistake this lightweight political comedy with Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) for topicality, but it has a few hilarious satirical moments and in a perfunctory way takes a few easy but on target potshots at dictatorships, democracies and naive peace activists to give it at least some heft. There’s also of note a seemingly cynical but not a necessarily altogether wrong-headed speech equating a despotic country to America’s “democracy,” which takes a darker and different direction than Chaplin’s famous heart-felt humanist speech at the conclusion of The Great Dictator.
The Dictator’s main problem is that it’s too loosely directed by Larry Charles (“Borat”/”Bruno”/”Masked and Anonymous“), in his third collaboration with British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. At best it’s only a fair comedy that mixes low-brow humor, physical comedy and farce. There are no more of Cohen’s ‘anything for a laugh’ pranks with the public, that delighted audiences in his first two features.
In the opening credits, the dedication states “In loving memory of Kim Jong-il.” Which I found to be funny as a shocking response to PC.
This Sacha Baron Cohen comedy has a script, thanks to Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer. But the comedian seems to stiffen with a script and seem more playful and nimble doing improv.
Sacha Baron Cohen plays the pompous moronic power hungry unloved Adm. Gen. Omar Aladeen in full beard, who since the age of seven is the ruthless oil rich uranium-enriching tyrant of the fictitious rogue North African nation of Wadiya and has currently gotten the attention of the UN because he’s become a threat to global peace. The dictator wears more medals on his military jacket than even America’s former General David Petraeus. The sexist despot pays big bucks to sleep with American celebrities like Megan Fox and hangs on his palace bedroom wall Polaroids of them after sex as proof.
The quick-tempered Aladeen sentences to death anyone he disagrees with, but no one is executed because the executioner is a member of the resistance and the would-be vics are smuggled instead to safety in Brooklyn.
Aladeen travels to the UN, where he’s to give a speech defending his hostile nuclear policies. The conniving second-in-command to Aladeen, his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley), the country’s rightful heir, schemes to assassinate the dictator and have a double speak in his behalf at the UN, as Tamir wants to have a democracy run by the oil companies so he could get filthy rich selling the country’s oil. When the bigoted American agent (John C. Reilly) hired by Tamir to assassinate Aladeen screws up and instead gets fried, Aladeen runs into the street looking like a homeless man and soon hooks up with protesters at the UN led by peace activist Zoey (Anna Faris). The goofy protest leader thinks Aladeen’s a dissident and invites the unrecognizable without his beard dictator to join her immigrant friendly Free Earth Collective food co-op store in Brooklyn. From there Aladeen plots to replace his double (also played by SBC) at the UN and get even with Tamir, and in the process of living in the commune falls for the feminist Zoey, learns to speak a few words in Yiddish, gets off some dated and strained Borscht Belt jokes and makes some mild personal improvements in the hate department due to the influence of Zoey.
The insulting character Cohen plays can be viewed solely as a movie character based on a number of recent Middle-East dictators (Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and Ahmadinejad), in a pic that desperately but unsuccessfully tries to get laughs out of politically incorrect material, rape, a rap about a Porsche by two Arab looking men that’s misconstrued as dangerous post-911 commentary, stiff sexist jokes, tonguing the hairy underarms of Zoey, an emergency delivery of a couple’s baby on the co-op floor that has the dictator saying the baby should be aborted because it’s a girl and the brutal dictator complaining that a Manhattan hotel rips off its guests by charging twenty dollars a day for Wi-Fi connection. This pic is more childish than outrageous in its humor, evidence that Cohen is beginning to lose much of his early shock luster.
REVIEWED ON 5/18/2012 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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