Tuesday, June 19, 2012
THE DICTATOR (2012)
Provocateur actor/writer Sacha Baron Cohen specializes in off-putting, offensive comedy through personas such as Borat, Bruno, and Ali G. He uses these agents of chaos to expose the closeted sociopaths we in civilized society pretend not to be. Cohen’s first feature BORAT used an ingenious mixture of candid and staged footage that provoked laughter and gasps of social horror, usually at the same time. He keenly targeted the funny bone and hit nerves with such accuracy that Cohen’s film spent years fighting lawsuits from irate subjects who felt betrayed, despite having signed releases. His latest uncivilized comedy is a completely scripted affair and, as such, aims lower but hits its mark more often than it misses. Cohen stars as Admiral General Aladeen, the despot-in-chief of a fictional, oil-rich country called Wadiya. Aladeen rules with an iron fist of sorts, routinely ordering the execution of cabinet members and citizens for the most innocuous of offenses, but regularly paying movie starlets (Megan Fox has a funny cameo) to have a Polaroid taken with him the morning after. When the U.N. Security Council demands Aladeen clarify his country’s nuclear intentions, the general and his advisor, uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley), travel to New York where Tamir attempts to assassinate his nephew and replace him with lookalike Efawadh (Cohen again). For reasons better seen than explained the assassination fails and an unrecognizable Aladeen is set loose in NYC. He becomes an employee at activist Zoey’s (Anna Faris) food co-op and schemes to reveal his uncle’s deception and be returned to power. The screenplay by Cohen & Alec Berg & David Mandel & Jeff Schaffer has something to offend everyone, even poking fun at post-9/11 terrorist fears; and Larry Charles, a frequent Cohen collaborator, provides serviceable if slapdash direction. The delightful Faris feels subdued here, while Kingsley and John C. O’Reilly (as a treacherous American agent) are game but used too little. Cohen’s earlier films invited audiences to laugh at those taken in by his ruse. Here everyone is in on the joke, so the humor has less bite.