The Dictator – 2012

Director Larry Charles
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly, Edward Norton, Megan Fox, B.J. Novak
Screenplay by Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer

By now, everyone is in on the joke.  There are very few dumb Americans with no idea that Sacha Baron Cohen exists to make them look like dumb Americans.  This is because not only have most of those dumb Americans seen Borat, but they have most likely purchased that movie at Walmart.  The second film, Bruno, with all of its fashionable Gay stereotypes, was not such a hit with the dumb Americans.  Now, with a movie that attempts to sympathize with a Middle Eastern dictator, most dumb Americans could identify the man behind the beard.  But they fail to identify with him.

The Dictator starts with a barrage of nonsensical babbling of things that would seem relevant to any of the variety of rulers of the not so free world.  In a short (but not short enough) time, the main thrust of the story takes off in the middle of New York City, in the form of the fish out of water.  Without his beard and all of his power, he is relegated to working in a hippie store.  One would think this the opportunity of a lifetime, to mock the liberal hand that feeds his ideas.  Unfortunately, the jokes are missing a very important element for Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy: surprise.

Every face he encounters with shocking behavior is a familiar one, seen playing bit parts in a variety of average comedies.  Seeing them feign shock, as compared to seeing real people who are really shocked takes what little value this comic routine has away, leaving the jokes to sit there on their own at face value.  That value is about $5 for a three pack of DVDS at Walmart.

Anna Faris once more gets the short end of the stick as co-star.  The 43 Scary Movies and 2 of the Chipmunk films were not punishment enough.  She has made a couple of decent films, but her batting average is not great.  She should fire her manager.

Ben Kingsley won his Oscar when this reviewer was 11 years old.  Since that time, he has had a spotty career.  There have been some classics, like The House of Sand and Fog, Dave, Sexy Beast, and even Schindler’s List. On the other side we have movies like BloodRayne, The Love Guru and, well,.this one.  Why he does the crappy films, I suppose is boredom.  Even the best students need to take a recess now and again.

Of all the performances, only Jason Mantzoukas nuclear scientist holds any particular resonance.  His reactions to Baron Cohen have the distinction of feeling like what the viewer actually might want to say to him…or do to him.

The soundtrack, done by his brother, has an appeal only if you want to hear the name “Aladeen” over and over again in tunes that you recognize.  Occasionally we get to hear a familiar song, only sung in Arabic.  Joy.

For Baron Cohen, it seems like its time to turn a corner on his comic routine.  He can keep making movies like this, but soon enough it will be less an event and more a collection of laborious agenda items to push forward.  This movie, as much as the one before it, feels more like a lesson than a lampoon.  At least Adam Sandler doesn’t push political correctness on you.  When the highlight of your film is adding a picture of Megan Fox to your wall of conquests, it’s time to get a new shtick.

(*1/2 out of *****)

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