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4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Dictator, The
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by Brett Gallman

"The Not-So-Great Dictator"
3 stars

“The Dictator” opens with a dedication to the late, not-so-great Kim Jong-il; that’s the joke, of course: that the North Korean tyrant was a terrible human being, so it’s funny to make a film that spoofs a composite of our most infamous contemporary dictators--right? As it turns out, that’s pretty much the entire punch-line to “The Dictator,” and, while occasionally funny, it attacks with the precision of a scud missile--and often with the force of one too.

It’s also crass, obscene, and envelope pushing, as is always the case with Sacha Baron Cohen, here affecting another vaguely foreign accent as Admiral General Aladeen, the ruthless dictator of the republic of Wadiya. Born fully bearded (one of the film’s earliest and best sight gags) and the inheritor to a throne to which he ascended as a child, he’s outrageously uncouth and oblivious. Armed with the peculiar idiosyncrasies of Kim Jong-il and the quick execution hand befitting all despots, he’s ruthlessly lorded over his country right down to the level of language, where over 300 words have been changed to “Aladeen,” much to the confusion of the locals.

Aladeen’s introduction works, but the herky-jerky sketch-like nature of it all is indicative of “The Dictator” as a whole, which doesn’t really hit any kind of groove until the title character is transplanted to New York and shorn into a beardless fish-out-of-water. He’s paired with his exact opposite in Zoe (Anna Faris), a loud stereotype of liberal feminists, right down to her hairy arm pits and veganism. She puts him to work at her organic foods market, at which point the film becomes a zany rom-com surrounded by more skits and sketches that hit and miss.

The hits are sometimes big hits--an impromptu birthing scene (complete with a vaginal POV shot), an inappropriate terrorist video game, a run-down of the petty reasons for which the dictator had subjects executed, and a misunderstood helicopter conversation involving two American tourists all stand out, probably because they step to a slightly different beat than the rest of the film, which is little more than Aladeen having inappropriate interactions with Westerners.

Such humor is the hallmark of Cohen, and it’s an approach that had real teeth in the past, not only because it had real, unsuspecting marks as a target, but also because it came armed with a real, satiric wit. “The Dictator” isn’t so much satire as it is a toothless farce whose moments of cleverness are buried beneath pubic gags and racist jokes that don’t inflame as much as they lightly smolder over, their spark doused by the juvenile nature of it all. While the film is technically relevant, it feels rather stale in its inability to truly tackle or comment upon Western complicity in the state of world affairs, save for a bit with John C. Reilly’s buffoonish xenophobe and a climactic laundry-list of American policy that’s not just on the nose--it practically drops an avalanche on the nose, leaving it as flat as some of the film's jokes.

But that’s “The Dictator” in a nutshell--an outrageous, obvious cartoon with thinly-sketched characters and puerile provocation that delivers laughs and winces in equal measure. Praise is in order for Cohen, who crafts an indomitable figure in Aladeen. With his absurdly fake beard accentuating his naturally gangly frame and gait, Cohen lopes through the film with the assuredness of a comedian who has eased into a shtick and had its edges dulled by a mechanically cinematic approach that’s at odds with his more anarchic sensibilities. Ultimately, it’s Cohen’s unwillingness to truly explore the shtick beyond the boundaries of rom-com beats that defangs “The Dictator.” Aladeen seems like the type of character I wouldn’t mind see recurring in a sketch show; when stretched out to feature length, however, he’s dulled into the tyrant with a heart of gold, a funny but not thought-provoking notion.

Instead, "The Dictator" only leaves me wondering if Cohen’s fame will ever allow him to blend into a new role that’ll allow him to prey on unwitting targets again. He's a comedian who's much too smart and dangerous to be subjected to the tyranny of silly mediocrity.

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originally posted: 05/17/12 14:41:27
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User Comments

1/05/13 tori cute and rather sweet! 4 stars
9/10/12 mr.mike More hits than misses. 4 stars
8/24/12 The Taitor Mildly entertaing with number of small laughs, rental at best 3 stars
6/01/12 Monday Morning Such an annoying PR campaign I'm making a point NOT to see this movie. 4 stars
5/21/12 Cinema spy Really disappointing 1 stars
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  16-May-2012 (R)
  DVD: 21-Aug-2012


  DVD: 21-Aug-2012

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