The Dictator (2012)
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, Bobby Lee, and Ben Kingsley
Director: Larry Charles
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars
The crazy dictator of a North African nation, Alladeen (Cohen), is thrust from power during a coup attempt while he is visiting New York City. He must rely on the kindness of an all-around Leftist who's never seen a cause she wouldn't protest for or against (Faris), and a scientist he once ordered executed (Mantzoukas) if he is to prevent his corrupt brother (Kingsley) from being democracy to his nation and selling out its oil reserves to China and international oil companies.
After the mostly unfunny and completely gross "Bruno", I had given up on Cohen, writing off as another Tom Green whose talent for comedy had rotted through celebrity. I wasn't going to waste any more time on him.
But when the previews came out for "The Dictator", I found myself laughing. What's more, I found myself curious as to whether the film would compare to Charlie Chaplin's great movie with the same title.
It comes close, but, unlike Chaplin, Cohen pulls his punches when it comes to the targets that Hollywood studio chiefs and Cohen's fellow filmmakers are either too scared of, or too wrapped up in some multicultural fantasy version of reality... the targets that wrap themselves in the cloak of Islam.
In the end, Cohen doesn't quite live up to Chaplin's legacy. He skewers the American political machine and international businesses dead-on, but he dances around the edges of the rot and corruption infesting the other side. Unlike Chaplin, he doesn't have the courage to buck the politics prevalent in the film industry and attack all sides of the most burning and deadly problems in geo-politics.
And it's too bad, because he might as well have attacked all sides equally, because those who sympathize with the unifying factors in the governments and organizations that Cohen treads somewhat gently around--Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Egypt and their proxies like the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and whatever Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored North African Terrorist Group of the Month hasn't been blown to bits yet--are starting to cry as if he HAD done the right and brave thing. But, unlike Chaplin, Cohen ultimately chickens out.
But that failing aside, this is a very funny movie. I don't think two minutes didn't go by where I wasn't chuckling or outright laughing. From the "Dedicated to the Memory of Kim Jong Il" through the extra footage and bloopers during the end credits, it's non-stop funny.
I feel a big reason this film succeeds where some of Cohen's other films have failed is because Alladeen, the dictator, isn't a total idiot like Bruno and Ali G.; he's just ignorant. And when he starts to realize how ignorant he is, he actually tries to change. A little. He remains the same generally mean-spirited character he was when the film started, but his horizons have been broadened and he has learned from his experiences, something which other Cohen characters have been too stupid to do.
It also helps that Cohen plays nicely off the supporting cast members like Faris and Mantzoukas. When it seems like the burgeoning romance between Alladeen and Zoey is going to fail, viewers actually feel for both of them, which is unexpected in a Cohen film.
Unless you're one of those people who secretly think it's A-OK for governments to oppress and massacre their citizens but too chicken-shit to come out and express your beliefs (and therefore will cry and scream about how this film is "disrespectful to Arabs", despite the fact that Cohen went as far as he could to coddle your sensitivities), you'll find much in this movie to laugh about... it runs the gamut from the lowest of the low humor to borderline sophisticated. It's a lot of fun.
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