Wadiya Do That For?

The Dictator is pointless, toothless

Although it turned many a talentless friend into an amateur impressionist, Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance as Borat was inarguably hilarious. The improvised, horribly racist, legitimately brilliant film that put Cohen on the map was a straight-up phenomenon and a much-needed reminder that the best comedy is dangerous comedy. Even Cohen’s follow-up, Brüno, was delightfully savage, exposing homophobia with a slightly lower laugh production than his freshman work. Sadly, The Dictator is total milquetoast weak sauce.

The third wacky-character-based go-round for Cohen and director Larry Charles is easily their worst and is stunningly tepid. The idea was at least semi-ballsy: wicked oppressor of the fictional north African nation of Wadiya, Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen (Cohen), faces an internal power grab from his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley). With the world gripped by the Arab Spring and enthralled by the removal of cruel rulers, with little interest in what happens in the wake of said removal, this seemed a target perfectly suited for Cohen’s heavily accented and brutal schtick.

Then came the script decision that undid the film: Aladeen is replaced by a doppelganger and left penniless on the streets of New York, Trading Places style. A misunderstanding results in the freedom-loathing misogynist being employed by a tree-hugging, vegan feminist named Zoey (Anna Faris). Mashing up “The Odd Couple” and Coming to America is anti-edgy, even when you throw in what could be the first birth scene shot from inside a vagina.

The Dictator contains exactly one impactful scene, in which Aladeen explodes the fallacy of democracy’s perfection while describing his oppressive regime, and one edgy satirical joke, when Aladeen asks a pregnant Zoey “Are you having a boy or an abortion?” The rest of the gags are stale, recycled or flat. Considering that mockery of brutal rulers is probably the most frequently practiced comedy in the world, it’s shocking how little range the film has.

The writing essentially neutered the film in shifting locale from the fertile comedic crescent to the home of nearly all fish-out-of-water. In concept, this film could have mocked not only dictatorial excess but the flaws of revolution, the failure of the majority of Americans to process events abroad and the similarity between military warlords and our elected officials. Instead we get copious jokes about Zoey’s tiny boobies and Aladeen’s tiny ding-dong. Ooh, how cutting edge!

Kubrick dropped Doctor Strangelove two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Chaplin unleashed The Great Dictator while Hilter was in office. The most powerful, brilliant works of comedic fiction are biting and timely. The Dictator could have been both. As it stands, it is just moderately amusing and lucky that it was released in the wake of the colossal stink bomb that is Dark Shadows. To put it another way, there’s a reason Chaplin’s Dictator got to use the descriptor Great and Cohen is still searching for the right adjective.

Grade = C-

posted at 02:52 am
on Sunday, May 20th, 2012

COMMENTS

(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus

 

« Previous Page


Worst. Children’s Book. Ever.

The horror genre is not my least favorite genre solely because white people keep making period costume dramas. At their worst, horror flicks revel in sadism and do so shoddily, with weak acting,...

more »


Happy, Little Clouded

Actual human beings made The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and you can tell. A water-colored rebuke of the robots who computer-generate most modern animation, every luscious scene is hand-crafted and...

more »


No Big Bang

In 1965, Stephen Hawking wrote his first ground-breaking thesis and wed Jane Wilde. His paper argued that if a star can collapse inwards to form a singularity, then a singularity can explode back...

more »


Leni Riefen-stalling

On the one hand, any film subtitled “Part 1” is a naked cash grab. On the other hand, shut up and take my money, Hunger Games. Mockingjay Part 1, like the rest of the franchise, is billed as “Young...

more »


Oopsie Genius

I know two things for sure: (1) Birdman aims to relentlessly drive home one singular point, one thoroughly expressed thesis about life and art. (2) It does not succeed. You would think that would...

more »







Advanced Search