Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: The Dictator

It's not that The Dictator isn't funny. It is, much funnier than Bruno. The problem is, it's not very substantial, none of the insight of Borat, and as such I'm not sure it's going to be as lasting or meaningful. But you review the movie you've got not the movie you want. And taken strictly on it's own merits, it's funny, even if it's not entirely successful or perfect.

The story, for once not a mockumentary (and after Bruno I wouldn't be eager to return to that well either), is devoted Admiral General Aladeen (played by Sacha Baron Cohen), a Kim-Jong-Il style Dictator (the film is 'dedicated' to Kim, in the first of several jokes that flirt with tastelessness) of a fictional North African country called Wadiya. Basically insert every stereotype that we've come to expect from the likes of Gaddafi, Kim, Hussein, etc. and shove them into one person and you have Aladeen. He goes to the US to speak about his nuclear weapons program to avoid getting bombed and ends up getting shaved and left for dead on the streets of the US.

You can probably guess the rest of the movie from there, and yeah you'd be right. Aladeen meets up with an American, has to learn to work with her and a Wadiyan refugee to get himself back into power, begins to develop feelings blahblahblah. Okay, so it's not the most original setup for a movie in the world, but it's an excuse for Cohen to try out another borderline offensive character, albeit in a more conventional setup than Borat.

The movie is funny, is the most important part. In fact, I'm wondering if there's any point in writing a review past that. There is little else to say about it. Most of the jokes land, some of them don't, like almost any other comedy. There's a cute little twist, involving the reasons for democracy coming to Wadiya being not entirely pure, and what seems like a message towards the end, but the movie never stops being funny.

If I had to come up with a complaint, it would boil down to the movie not feeling very substantial, as I said above. It feels kind of thin and random. A movie that focuses more on Wadiya itself would probably be better and while there's humor to be found in thrusting Aladeen into a New York setting, it was funnier when it was Borat and this feels like a weak attempt to recapture that setting.

Ultimately, The Dictator is still not as good as Borat and I'm not sure anything Cohen will do will equal or surpass it. But it's funny and I enjoyed it. It's another odd step in the career of Sacha Baron Cohen, as he tries to decide whether he wants to be an actual actor, or a Will Ferrel style comedy star. And while his results this time are imperfect, they are a hell of a lot better than anything Adam Sandler and the like are usually putting out, so if you're inclined, yeah it's worth a look.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and if nothing else Sandler's career has to get better after Jack and Jill...right?

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