REVIEW: The Dictator

24 06 2012

The first time Sacha Baron Cohen lost himself in a character for a full-length theatrical release was 2006’s “Borat,” and it hilariously exposed American xenophobia while also providing a rollickingly good comedy for those unwilling to see what the humor was meant to reveal.  He did it again in 2009 for “Brüno,” and its lack of success (and arguably humor) may have shown how much less ready America is to deal with pent-up homophobia.

Now Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again in “The Dictator,” this time not as a personality from his outrageously funny “Da Ali G Show” from HBO.  Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional Republic of Wadiya, is every bit as politically incorrect and outlandish as his previous three (if not more so).  He makes jokes about 9/11 and being friends with Osama bin Laden, executes just about anyone who disagrees with him, sleeps with actress/underground escort Megan Fox, and asks his pregnant wife (Anna Faris) if she will be having “a boy or an abortion.”  Yeah, he went there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few jokes that Cohen can squeeze out of his boundary-pushing routine.  “The Dictator” has plenty of brilliant comedic moments, although the ones that succeed seem only giggle-worthy and the ones that fail appear to have been ripped straight from the Adam Sandler playbook.  However, the laugh gap isn’t the movie’s biggest problem.

It’s that Cohen really only made this movie to please himself.  “Borat” and “Brüno,” shot as mockumentaries and fully laying prejudices bare, served to provide a purpose for their horrible offenses.  Sacha Baron Cohen is a devout Jewish man who even tries to keep Kosher; do you really think he would sing a song like “Throw the Jew Down the Well” (OK, it was on “Da Ali G Show”) to be truly anti-Semitic?  No, the song reveals how easily a crowd can reveal their indifference to anti-Semitism or fully display it themselves, thus asking the audience how they would respond in a similar situation.

By removing the real people from “The Dictator” and replacing them with actors fully prepared for Aladeen’s behavior, it takes the light off us an audience and shines it all the more brightly on Sacha Baron Cohen.  And sure, he’s a devilishly clever comedian with an incredible ability to physically adapt to a character and offend with dialogue in ways that comedy scribes could only dream of.  But by using a recycled avuncular power grab story (been there, done that with “The Lion King”) and a trite love story with hippie environmentalist Zoey (Anna Faris), Cohen settles when he should be reaching for the stars.  His lamebrained satire produces no revelations other than the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen is one heck of a comedian.

But you knew that back in 2006.  C+


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