Movie Review by L.L. Soares
I have to admit, I was dreading going to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie, THE DICTATOR, mostly because I have been seeing the trailers for the movie every week for what seems like six months now, and I’ve seen the same jokes over and over, and I was afraid that these were the best scenes in the movie, and it would turn out to be very unfunny otherwise.
Luckily, that’s not the case. The people marketing Cohen’s movie did something very clever. The trailers actually include scenes not in the movie – or scenes that are very different (outtakes, probably)—and therefore, a lot of the comedy we do see in the movie is fresh. Some scenes that are in the movie, like Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen) running in his own version of the Olympics and shooting his competitors, happen right away in the beginning of the movie, so the fact that you might be immune to them by now shouldn’t affect your reaction to THE DICTATOR as a whole…too much. This is the problem with comedy—if you see something funny over and over, it can lose its kick, and fizzle like soda left out overnight.
So, all that said, how is THE DICTATOR? Well, I went in with low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Although this one stars Cohen and is directed once again by Larry Charles (who also directed Cohen in his previous films BORAT, 2006 and BRUNO, 2009), it’s a departure from Cohen’s usual modus operandi, where he plays characters who interact with real people, to capture their genuine reactions. In THE DICTATOR, everyone is a fictional character, so there are no “ambushes of the innocent.” This is too bad, because Cohen is at his funniest when he is at his most spontaneous, and yet THE DICTATOR works very well as a comedy about a ruthless despot.
Right off the bat you know what you’re in for, when a dedication flashes onscreen. “In loving memory of Kim Jong-il.” And then we are whisked away to the North African country of Wadiya, ruled over with an iron thumb by Cohen’s Aladeen. One of the running jokes is that whenever anyone questions him, or even accidentally gets in his way on the stairs, he has his men execute them. So everyone in his country are “yes men” and Aladeen is like a very obnoxious brat in a humungous toy store, where he can do whatever he wants. Including refining weapons-grade uranium.
When he’s called to the carpet for his attempt at getting a “weapon of mass destruction,” Aladeen agrees to go to America to address the United Nations. So he and his second in command, Uncle Tamir (Ben Kinglsey, that SEXY BEAST (2000) himself—Cohen and Kingsley also recently co-starred in Martin Scorcese’s film HUGO, 2011), and their minions, all go to New York City.
After a secret agent (John C. Reilly) sent to torture Aladeen shaves off the despot’s beard and tries to kill him, Aladeen is out on the streets, desperate to figure out how to get back into the hotel, where a moronic shepherd who happens to look just like him (also Cohen) is masquerading as the dictator himself.
It turns out that Tamir has an agenda of his own, which includes turning Wadiya into a democracy (the first thing he has the imposter shout out at the U.N, when he thinks that the real Aladeen is dead) and selling off oil leases to the highest bidders.
Along the way to recapturing his throne, Aladeen comes upon Zoey (Anna Faris) an activist with the bowl cut hairdo of a boy, the armpits of a yak, and who runs a radical feminist food collective in downtown Manhattan. She thinks the beardless Aladeen is trying to get back into the hotel because he is a Wadiyan rebel, protesting his leader, and Aladeen takes full advantage of this misunderstanding to get a job at Zoey’s store, and plan his next move.
Aladeen, of course, being the racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic monster that he is, spouts comments throughout the movie that are politically incorrect and purposely offensive. He’s supposed to be a horrible person, after all, and Cohen’s dictator fits the bill just fine as a man we love to hate. Strangely enough though, as the movie goes on, we even start to feel sorry for his character as he appears to be on the verge of enlightenment. Whether or not he actually changes his ways for real is something you’ll have to see the movie to find out, however.
Scenes that are particularly funny include a helicopter ride where Aladeen and his former nuclear expert, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), talk in (fake) Arabaic, scaring the hell out of a middle-aged American couple also onboard; a lengthy, graphic and very funny “woman having a baby in the middle of a store” scene; and Aladeen’s desperate attempt to foil his double’s signing of a new constitution that will give his subjects the right to vote in free elections.
There’s even a speech by Aladeen toward the end that would fit right in at an Occupy Wall Street rally, that is touching, ironic, and hilarious all at the same time.
I really don’t want to go into too much detail about the gags themselves. That would just ruin the impact of the humor. Suffice it to say that I laughed a lot during this one, and was surprised at how much I liked it. While it doesn’t even come close to the brilliance of BORAT, THE DICTATOR is pretty successful in reaching the goals it sets for itself. I give it three knives.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives THE DICTATOR ~three knives.