Wednesday, May 23, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “The Dictator” Review


The man that brought us Ali G, Borat and Bruno takes aim at North African authoritarianism in what might just be the summer’s best mainstream comedy offering 

“The Dictator”
Director: Larry Charles
Year: 2012


There’s a fantastic scene towards the end of “The Dictator” where Sacha Baron Cohen’s character - a composite facsimile equal parts Qaddafi, Kim Jong-Il and Saddam Hussein - explains to U.N. delegates how much better the United States would be if it, too, eschewed democracy. He envisions an America where one percent of the population rules over the majority of the working class, crony capitalism runs amuck amongst politicians and big business alike and large minority populations can be detained, just because. And at that point, the theater - perhaps sore from the menagerie of penile jokes and scatological humor that had been the locus of the film so far - falls deathly silent. They quickly realize that the joke wasn’t ass-backwards Arabian culture, but our own; the U.S. hegemony that promotes industriousness and individuality while outsourcing factories and denying civil rights to its own citizenry. It’s far and away the best “joke” in the movie, and you can tell by looking out into the audience; nobody laughs, you know, when they yolk is on their own face.

As with Cohen’s previous films “Borat” and “Bruno,” the centerpiece of “The Dictator” is the hypocritical, domineering auger of American imperialism, although this time, the focus isn’t on cultural xenophobia and homophobia, but a much broader portrait of U.S. unsightliness. We’ve had enough fun playing “Candid Camera” with America’s closeted bigots, racists and anti-Semites; this time around, let’s turn the tables on the audiences themselves, why don’t we?

Of course, “The Dictator” doesn’t directly address American crudeness, and that’s what makes the film so thoroughly enjoyable. Despite being the living embodiment of anti-Americanism itself, Cohen’s General Aladeen - a cult-of-personality figure with such a hard-on for himself that he changes most of the adjectives in his homeland of Wadiya to his own moniker - it’s easy to picture many of his convictions being ported about by any number of right-wing nationalists right here in the States. Aladeen refers to African-Americans as “Sub-Saharans,” and has a decisive hatred of women, the handicapped and especially the Jews. When he’s not beheading Harlem drug lords (long story) and learning the ins and outs of self-pleasuring (again, an even longer story), he’s often found playing the Wii version of “Munich,” or trying to goad his prospective American girlfriend/short-term employer into visiting the local “rape center” (which, apparently, has an entirely different connotation in Wadiya than it does in NYC.) Cohen’s character completely breaks any and all notions of contemporary political correctness, demonstrating a hedonistic lack of restraint that’s probably what would happen had Charlie Chaplin taken the works of Marquis de Sade truly to heart and joined the John Birch Society

“The Dictator” is the sort of all-out, caution-to-the-wind, made-for-adults comedy that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days. It’s not necessarily a work of modern American art on par with “The Kentucky Fried Movie” or “Blazing Saddles,” but it’s not a bad attempt at replicating the success of the afore-mentioned 1970s socially-conscious comedies, either. It’s a very uneven movie, but I have a hard time picturing a film of the like being anything but; the punches here might have been pulled a little, but it still packs more of a wallop than any comedy you are likely to encounter at a mainstream Cineplex this summer.

Structurally, “The Dictator” has a very simple premise. General Aladeen, on his way to a U.N. meeting, gets knocked out by his second-in-command and replaced by a doppelganger. Following a shearing at the hands of Dewey Cox himself, Aladeen becomes just another nobody on the streets of NYC, until he earns the friendship of an eco-conscious grocery store owner (played by Anna Faris, of “Scary Movie” fame). Sensing a catering gig as his only opportunity to reclaim his throne, Aladeen helps his gal pal win back a contract via some particularly shady business moves - resulting in an all-too-predictable, but perhaps unavoidable, blossoming romance subplot. And if it sounds a little drippy, that’s probably intentional, as the film is based, in part, on “Zabibah and the King,” a romance novel allegedly penned by Saddam Hussein himself. No, really.

Cohen has some excellent co-star support in “The Dictator,” ranging from Ben Kingsley as Aladeen’s scheming right hand man to “Mad TV” alum Bobby Lee as an ultra-rich Chinese business mogul that likes to pay A-list celebrities so he can fondle them. At the end of the day, however, it’s Cohen’s swanky, unrepentant vileness that carries the film, and makes every second of the flick immensely enjoyable. I know it sounds like I just drank the contents of a thermometer, but I truly believe that he’s done enough in this movie to warrant an Oscar nod come next spring; pending the people of Wadiya don’t overthrow him first, of course.

“The Dictator” isn’t a perfect film by any stretch, but you really didn’t need me to tell you that. A lot of the humor is right on the money, and other attempts fall flat as a pancake. Perhaps director Larry Charles puts a little bit too much emphasis on the obvious, and at certain points, Cohen’s mugging goes from mildly amusing to seriously grating in just a matter of seconds. Not everything here works, but most of it does; it may not be a classic, or even a cult classic in the making, but you could definitely find way, way worse at the local box office. As in, wayyyyyyy worse. And hell, when’s the next time you’re going to get a chance to hear an R.E.M. song covered in Arabic at your local movie house, anyway?

SCORE: B+ 

2 comments:

  1. Nice review of the movie.

    Check out my review .

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Einstein didn't find short Arabic stories with English translation in his local bookstore. If he had, we would probably still consider gravity to be no more than a myth.

    ReplyDelete