REVIEW: The Dictator is funny, appropriately crude as Sacha Baron Cohen comedies go

Posted: May 15, 2012 in Arts
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At this point, the general dichotomy of Sacha Baron Cohen’s seem to be consistent: Eccentric foreign personality suffers a fall from grace, and the next couple hours are ripe with redemption and shenanigans.

It becomes abundantly clear quickly that The Dictator, his newest and the third film, follows suit, but more crucial to his film’s successes than plot resolution have been the methods of intended hilarity in getting there.  Borat was a smash hit, using methods of offensive hilarity aided by Cohen’s relative anonymity during the filming. He retained that under-the-radar status during the filming of Bruno for the most part as well, but the formula for comedy didn’t strike the same chords, ending in a result that was more grotesque for even fans of his first raunchy flick. And frankly, the character of Bruno at its essence was better served in skit form.

Though director Larry Charles returns (he helmed Bruno and Borat, also), Cohen abandons the mockumentary format for a straight comedy showing this time, and coins a new creation with a North African dictator named Aladeen. Borat set the bar high for Cohen, and though The Dictator may not quite clear it, it’s certainly “very niiice” in its own right.

The premise finds Aladeen, an executing, Megan Fox-shagging ruler at the helm of the Republic of Wadiya, and scheming to build WMDs under the watchful eye of the UN. When Aladeen is urged to abandon his hijinx (like a Wii-inspired terrorist game called “Munich Olympics”) by his brother (played by Ben Kingsley), he makes his way to the States where the adventure begins.

While the jokes have been more than subtle in terms of U.S. culture in his previous films, The Dictator wields an abundance of prodding at “the American way.” When he arrives at the hotel in New York City, Aladeen cracks a reference regarding the price of “Twenty dollars a day for wi-fi,” and the wet bar fridge. But the real hits come later in the movie in a speech where Aladeen unleashes satire while juxtaposing democracy in America with his dictator ways.

No longer blindsiding celebrities or politicians, Cohen’s A-List participants are mostly positive this go-around. Kinglsey is serviceable, and Bobby Lee’s Mr. Lao is lackluster at best, but Anna Ferris’ androgynous character Zoey plays well with Cohen in their scenes together. Perhaps their finest is one in which she assists Aladeen in the discovery of self-pleasure, proof of Cohen’s toilet humor at its peak. Although more of a cameo in a short-lived role, John C. Reilly delivers as a torturer early on in the film and draws his share of laughs per usual.

Few had mistaken Bruno for the outrageous brand of humor that Borat yielded, but the former really blew the amplifier out on the gay humor scale. Simply put, the gross far out-weighed the funny. Fans of Cohen’s previous works stand to be of the lesser-offended variety, but I expected similar too over-the-top moments to come at some point. In The Dictator’s defense, it wisely doesn’t come until much later in the film during scenes where Aladeen and Zoey bond (again), and the male genitalia is kept as minimal as likely can be in a Cohen flick.

While Bruno was at times so awkwardly uncomfortable and grotesque that it left viewers squirming in anticipation of its finale, viewers should still be engaged with The Dictator during its credit-rolling outtakes despite a near-identical running time.  And though it’s not as consistently gut-busting as Borat was, The Dictator punches hard with humor enough times that it should be a contender as one of the year’s better comedies.

The Dictator opens nationwide May 16. You can follow Bryan on Twitter at @BryanWXOU.

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