The Dictator

  • Year:2012
  • Rating:MA
  • Director:Larry Charles
  • Cast:Sacha Baron Cohen, Kevin Corrigan, Anna Faris, Megan Fox, Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly
  • Release Date:May 16, 2012
  • Distributor:Paramount
  • Running time:83 minutes
  • Film Worth:$10.00
  • FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

A disappointing, often repulsive and mean-spirited mess of a film with seemingly only one real criterion on its agenda: to shock and offend.

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Where do you go when you've already taken it right to the edge? With his instant comedy classics, Borat and Bruno (and the still excellent but less epochal Ali G In Da House: The Movie), writer/producer/actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, proved himself to be a confrontational comic genius of the first order. The films were hilarious, controversial, daring, and driven by an obvious intent to push the boundaries of movie comedy. In short, they did exactly what good comedy should do. Borat and Bruno also looked leeringly at the metaphorical line in the sand without ever really crossing it. They certainly gave it the finger - hell, they might even have pissed on it - but they never really took that big step over the line...except perhaps in the eyes of the truly prudish and conservative. Seemingly left with nowhere else to go - a victim of his own bravery and stand-alone brand of comic provocation - Sacha Baron Cohen has now apparently made the decision to cross that line with his new film, The Dictator, perhaps in fear of going backwards creatively. Unfortunately, what exists on the other side of that line is - as you would expect - so repulsive and mean spirited that it may even offend more than a few of this comic titan's true believers. 

Cohen is the titular tyrant, General Admiral Aladeen, the oppressive ruler of Wadiya, a small North African nation home to rampant torture, execution, subjugation of women, and various other human rights abuses. When his evil right hand man, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), attempts to bring democracy to Wadiya, Aladeen - through a series of comic misadventures - finds himself in America and mistakenly believed to be a political refugee. He is taken in by Zoey (Anna Faris) - the lefty, protesting, neo-hippy owner of an organic supermarket - and attempts to prevent Tamir from using a docile Aladeen lookalike double to make a speech to the UN ushering in democracy in Wadiya.

While The Dictator is packed-to-bursting with genuinely bold and inventive laughs, Sacha Baron Cohen and his regular collaborator, director Larry Charles, ruin a lot of them by pushing what is initially amusing into singularly vicious territory. In one scene, we see Aladeen jumping around in his living room, enjoying what appears to be a spot of Wii tennis. We then cut to the Wii game that he is actually playing, which is a despot's special in which you have to behead and execute political dissidents. That's funny! Instead of leaving the gag there, however, Aladeen then moves onto the "Munich Massacre" level, where he guns down Israeli Olympic athletes who scream "Oy vey" and "meshuggeneh" as they hit the deck in a blood sprayed mess. The fact that Baron Cohen is himself Jewish obviously gives him leeway with a joke like this, but it's no less unpleasant, and is indicative of the film's wrong-headed practice of getting too specific and ugly with its humour.

Scenes also feel like they've been crow-barred into the narrative just to allow a little more comic nastiness (or to pad out the slim running time). A pregnant customer in Zoey's store starts having contractions in one of the aisles, seemingly only so Aladeen can announce himself a doctor, and then accidentally shove his fist up the woman's arse three times before eventually finding the right orifice and finally extracting the crying baby. When he sees that it's a girl, he announces that there's a problem, and then asks if he should throw it in the bin. In scenes like this, it's not so much the ugliness of the comedy itself, but more the fact that it's been put there for no real reason other than to inspire, ahem, shock and awe. For someone of Sacha Baron Cohen's keen intelligence, that's frankly a little disappointing.

The biggest problems with The Dictator, however, are its characters and its intent. Though he does hurl a few finely honed political barbs at the film's climax, Sacha Baron Cohen's only purpose seems to be to offend. Without the absurdist layering provided by a similarly intended film like, say, Team America, or the unbridled, unforgiving viciousness of Robert Downey Sr.'s savage 1969 satire, Putney Swope, this leaves The Dictator partially swinging in the wind. Unlike those loopy classics, Sacha Baron Cohen actually wants the audience to sympathise (at least to some extent) with General Admiral Aladeen, even though he openly admits to having enjoyed his previous exploits of rape and torture, of both men and women. Again, when Aladeen talks about how much fun he had raping and torturing the members of the Latin teen pop boy band, Menudo, it's kind of funny. But when Aladeen's sidekick then brings up the fact that he forced their eyes open so they had to watch what he was doing to them through their tears before eventually committing suicide, what was comedic becomes malicious, self-satisfyingly cruel, and ultimately nauseating. How could we care about Aladeen's feelings of being misunderstood, or sympathise when he gets upset that Megan Fox won't cuddle him after he's paid to fuck her? Borat was an ultimately loveable naïf, and Bruno was skewering the kind of Hollywood lightweights that had it coming (in The Dictator, the comic "targets" include, amongst others, dismembered Central American political refugees...ha di ha ha!), but General Admiral Aladeen is just a complete prick who never even gets close to redemption. He's such a foul comic anchor that he sinks much of the film's humour.

And even in an outrageous comedy obviously not constrained by the usual cinematic demands of narrative and believability, it's flatly ridiculous that Farris' loopy lefty, Zoey, would fall in love with the boorish, unrepentant, rape-happy Aladeen. Combined with Sacha Baron Cohen's smug, inconsistent performance, and Larry Charles' choppy, shoddy direction, it makes The Dictator even less appealing. Sure, Sacha Baron Cohen might have the biggest comedic balls on the planet, but The Dictator is so mean and joyless that he can't comedically get it up to use them. 

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