daniel cohen reviews the latest from sacha baron cohen…
Plot: When eccentric dictator Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) of Waidiya travels to New York City and is stripped of his iconic beard, he is thrown out into the city, completely unrecognizable. He befriends the owner (Anna Faris) of an organic food market while also trying to regain power over his top aid (Ben Kingsley) who betrays him.
I admit off the bat, I’m not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy. While Borat isn’t my cup of tea, I recognize it’s an intriguing comedy, and I respect Cohen’s fearlessness and improvisational skills. But I’m not cutting him any slack for this one…in the words of the immortal Critic Jay Sherman, The Dictator ‘stinks.’ And maybe you’re thinking, ‘Well, you just don’t like Cohen’s comedy, so of course you didn’t like it.’ But here’s the deal – I saw this first thing Saturday morning opening weekend, so the crowd present had to be Sacha Baron Cohen fans to some extent. Not only did I hear nobody laughing, but people walked out. That should tell you something.
The reason why this movie annoyed me to no end is that within the first five seconds, it’s already so Sacha Baron Cohen that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and say, ‘Yup, here we go.’ It’s too much in his wheel house. The very first joke of the film wants to offend you so badly that its objective is practically bursting out of the screen. And that’s all this movie is: Shock gags, and let’s see how badly we can offend people. Borat does the same thing, but at least it was amusing more times then not. This humor is in poor taste, but it’s not even funny, which is the worst crime. The most offensive jokes are the jokes aimed towards Jewish people, which was a staple in Borat as well. Look, it takes a lot to offend me. You really have to dig deep, especially in comedies. And I am never one to be sensitive to the ‘PC Police.’ And I wasn’t even really offended by the stuff in this movie either, but I can totally understand people getting bent out of shape about the material in here. My problem with Cohen is that he just appears to have this attitude of ‘Oh, you’re offended by that. Give me a break, man. Get over it.’ But there’s a joke in here about the Munich Olympic Games that is really hard to stomach.
But let’s move away from the deep analysis of this guy’s comedic brain, and just touch on why this movie simply doesn’t work. Even the jokes that could be funny go on WAY TOO LONG! It’s so repetitive! It’s like Family Guy on steroids. There are scenes where Aladeen and his right hand man Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) have these long conversations that are mildly amusing for ten seconds, but just keep going and going and going. The worst is the scene you see in the trailer where they are up in the helicopter with the tourists. It’s funny at first, but then it just descends into a land of clichés and cheap gags that should have ended a long time ago. I did like Jason Mantzoukas’ performance though, as he elevates the weak script. If you ever watch The League on FX, he plays Rafi, and is hilarious on that show. I do want to see more of this guy.
Not only do these conversations go on for what seems like eternity, but they repeat the same gags. Oh, let’s have Aladeen and Nadal make pop culture references like Real Housewives and Eat, Prey, Love in their funny accents…that will be funny. No … it’s not.
But aside from the lackluster dialogue, it’s the shock gags that made me consider walking out of this. This is really embarrassing. Let’s just throw penis, masturbation, and shit jokes on the screen, and I’m sure people will laugh. This to me is unforgivable comedy. It proves that the writers were lazy. Audiences don’t fall for this stuff anymore, which is evident by nobody laughing in the theater I saw it at. There’s also a scene involving a birth that was so atrociously bad, even Sacha Baron Cohen looked embarrassed about it.
Now did I get a few chuckles during this? Very few. John C. Reilly has a couple lines that were pretty funny. My favorite scene in the entire movie involved a torture scene with him and Sacha Baron Cohen that was actually pretty clever as Aladeen makes fun of Reilly’s torture weapons. I also liked Anna Faris’ performance. I feel bad for Faris. I think she is really talented and funny, but she’s never been given a great script to work with. I hope she finds her way.
So I don’t know if you can tell, but I didn’t like this film. I will admit though there’s a speech towards the end that was well written. But even me not being a fan of this guy, I don’t think his hardcore audience is going to be enamored with it either. Sacha Baron Cohen is talented, but it’s time to get some new tricks. And even though I’m sure Cohen improvised a lot of this, looking at the writers of this film was depressing. Credited on the script other than Cohen were Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, all guys who wrote for Seinfeld back in the day. So, what the hell happened? The only way I can explain this is that Mandel wrote the Bizarro Jerry episode, so maybe it was bizarro versions of these guys writing the script for the Dictator.
Rating: 2.5 out of 10 (Nearly a Complete and Utter Disaster)