Crude and raunchy, but it’s not as sharply satiric as it could be. If The Dictator is the most unfulfilling movie we ever get from Sacha Baron Cohen, then I shall have lived a good life. Since I was such a bona fide champion of “Borat” and “Bruno,” I have perhaps insurmountable expectations for him. But what am I really going to remember from his latest? Scenes of him making the off-with-his-head gesture time and time again, or him gratuitously hands-deep into a woman in labor? Or how about him caught on a zip-line in mid-air with the requirement to drop loaves (the yukkier kind of loaves) in order to get to the other side?
Actually, if there is anything cool I’m going to remember for a long time – besides a high-priced evening with Megan Fox as herself – it’s the final oration in front of the U.N. where our tyrannical dictator delivers a speech mocking the democracy of America, unwittingly making America sound fascist. It’s certainly funnier than any scene where he falls in love with a girl (Anna Faris) so butch she might as well be a boy to him. Or anything with tight-lipped advisor Tamir (Ben Kingsley) who has no funny dialogue to say.
Hold on, there is funniness and nastiness. I didn’t want to imply there wasn’t. But wait. Wait. What’s majorly different from this effort by Cohen and director Larry Charles earlier triumphs is that “The Dictator” is not shaped like an on-the-fly documentary, nor is there any public candid camera situations. What we get is a skimpy narrative done with a small scope, taking place too much around a health food store and a luxury hotel in New York. It’s mostly belabored to be gross and outrageous. And you feel the hermetic limits of the “closed sets” accepting that Cohen doesn’t interact with the real world this time.
General Aladeen, with his shingling beard, is de-bearded by a surprise guest actor and thwarts death. A doppelganger, in the meantime, has assumed his identity (the doppelganger, also played by Cohen, has no idea how to receive pleasure from a bevy of thong-wearing escorts). Aladeen must reclaim his power, but without his beard, everyone takes him for a regular schmo.
It’s a slightly better made movie than an Adam Sandler production. It’s wittier in brief spots. For instance, take note that the movie is dedicated in loving memory to Kim Jong Il. I had just hoped to see actual scenes of Aladeen horrifying New Yorkers with his pompous behavior. It’s not fun to see Aladeen, stripped of dignity, playing the defanged autocrat who is now anonymous like anyone else.
I remember seeing “Borat” at a late show along with a party of ten. We got soused before we went in and we just cracked up to pieces during the movie. If you’re a big fan of Cohen, “The Dictator” ain’t going to give you the same jollies but it still might be worth a matinee price, perhaps. It’s not boring, just misguided and scattershot. As a cinematic work of art, it’s just a little limp no matter how many dick jokes there are.
83 Minutes. Rated R.
CRUDE COMEDY / GOOFY / WEEKEND VIEWING DEBAUCHERY
Film Cousins: “Duck Soup” (1933); “The Great Dictator” (1940); “Top Secret” (1984); “Moon Over Parador” (1988).