Four by Two Films
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
As with so many humorists and comedians of our era, Sacha Baron Cohen works within the framework of both scattershot and scatological. The general idea is to throw anything and everything against the wall and see if anyone laughs at it. Sometimes it works: his debut feature, Borat, was a huge success. The second film, Bruno, less so. The current release The Dictator is somewhere in the middle.
In this tale of a dictator from a fictional North African country, Baron Cohen as Admiral General Aladeen is challenged to give a speech at the United Nations regarding the oppression of his people. While in New York, those who plot against him arrange for him to be stripped of his trademark beard, which renders him unrecognizable, as well as his clothes, and set adrift in the midst of America and American culture.
It is the standard “fish out of water” tale, and probably owes more than a passing nod to Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America. What Baron Cohen offers up during the brief eighty-three minutes running time, can go either way, depending on your sense of humor, or your sensibilities about what’s going on in the world today.
Some of the jokes, gags and dialogue crash land with a thud. You have to wonder, “What was he thinking?” On the other hand, in the next frame, you get something even more outrageous or potentially offensive that is belly laugh funny, even though you may feel a certain level of guilt about laughing.
In addition to Baron Cohen, the cast features Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley as Tamir, The Dictator’s prime minister. Anna Faris plays the left-wing do-gooder head of a food co-op in Brooklyn, with whom Aladeen becomes smitten. An unbilled John C. Reilly is hilarious as a security expert hired to protect Aladeen while in the Big Apple. And if you blink, or go for popcorn, you might miss cameos by the likes of Megan Fox, Chris Elliot, Garry Shandling, and Edward Norton.
Director Larry Charles has helmed all three of Baron Cohen’s film outings, so they obviously work well together. Charles is most noted for his work producing TV series such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage.
And even though Baron Cohen stars, co-wrote and co-produced The Dictator, there’s another family member involved who really shines: brother Erran Baron Cohen, who’s a musician and composer of all of Sacha’s film scores. His music cues and pseudo-ethnic songs are just terrific, and a joy to listen to.
While Sacha Baron Cohen may be an acquired taste, his terrific turn as the train station gendarme in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo offers proof that he’s extremely capable of delivering a serious, affecting performance. I am hopeful he will get another chance to do that again.
The R-rated The Dictator is now repressing his country at theatres everywhere. However, don’t take your 81-year-old Aunt Minnie. She’s likely to pummel you with popcorn.