Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: The Dictator

I have to preface this review by saying that I have not been a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. In fact, the only movie that I have seen him in is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  I enjoy raunchy humor just as much as the next guy, but there are limits to the depths of lowbrow comedy that I can appreciate before it becomes a series of tasteless stunts.  For this reason, I had chosen to steer clear of Baron Cohen’s work.  However, the trailers for The Dictator were edited very well – almost too well as it made me wary that the funniest parts of the movie had been already revealed.  Still, I decided to roll the dice and give this movie a look.

As a movie, an exercise in filmmaking, a coherent and compelling narrative, this is an exercise in total mediocrity.  It is paint by the numbers cinematic story telling at its worst.  But that’s okay, because that is not what the movie is about.  As a vehicle to entertain, it is very good.  It pains me to say this.  I almost feel embarrassed.  If there were an equivalent to writing this sentiment as a whisper (like maybe typing it in a smaller font), I would do it, because the humor is mean, degrading, racist, sexist, and a bunch of other “ists” that I cannot think of, but it works because everyone is fair game – and there is an odd sense of equality in that.

The fool is a fantastic vehicle to poke fun at the foibles of society and to ridicule social norms and Baron Cohen’s Aladeen is a total fool up to the task.  As a man in a vacuum, he is a walking bag of discrimination and insensitivity that plays like a destructive force against all that we consider right and proper.  But before you get the impression that this is some intelligent commentary on society, let me reassure you that it’s all mostly about generating raucous laughter.  In fact there is only one  moment when Cohen tries to stand on the proverbial soapbox, and that is precisely the same moment when the film comes to a screeching halt.

As for the rest of the cast:

Anna Faris is not at her dynamic best.  She sheds her usual spunky and vacuous persona for an overly zealous activist who is eerily similar to a girl I met many years ago from Wellesley College who was angered because I referred to myself as a freshman instead of a first year. 

Ben Kingsley is present in this film, which is the best that I can say.  Seeing him in this movie, I feel the same way I did when I saw him in The Love Guru (Mike Myers at his worst) – which is to wonder “why.” 

John C. Reilly and Ed Norton make small appearances in the film, but special kudos goes out to Megan Fox for finally finding a role that suits her perfectly.

But really the cast beyond Baron Cohen is just window dressing, because The Dictator is a one-man show.  I would recommend this movie even though there is going to be a segment of the population that will be turned off by the humor.  If you can appreciate a free-for-all mosh pit approach to comedy where no joke is off limits and everyone is fair game, then you will definitely enjoy this movie.  It is not as good as 21 Jump Street, but it is one of the better comedies that I have seen thus far in 2012.

Standout Performance: Jason Mantzoukas as Nadal – Baron Cohen’s partner in crime – is a great straight man to walking punch line that is Aladeen.