‘The Dictator’ Commands Few Laughs

Most people I know are only familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen’s work on the Borat and Bruno level. My first exposure to him was 11 years ago in a boring Biloxi, Mississippi apartment with time to kill. There it was. The Ali G Show. Cohen displayed comedic brilliance in the role of the suburban Brit gangsta-wannabe, which of course also included Kazakhi tourist Borat and gay Austrian fashion journalist, Bruno. Fast forward those 11 years and here we are with Cohen’s latest incarnation as Admiral General Aladeen. My, how the mighty have fallen.

A great deal of the public’s first exposure to The Dictator came about at this year’s Oscars when Cohen, in character as his dictator character, navigated his interview in character with Ryan Seacrest while holding an urn with the fake ashes of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.  Cohen purposefully spilled the ‘ashes’ (which turned out to be pancake mix) on Seacrest’s tux, creating a moment of discomfort for Seacrest and viewers alike.  Bad start.

Here were are today with the movie’s release, and as a fan of Cohen’s, but very turned off with his Bruno movie, I held caution going into this.  That caution turned out to be extremely warranted as the film was an awful mess of forced humor.  As previously mentioned, Cohen plays fictional middle east leader Admiral General Aladeen.  The United Nations has threatened military action against his country for its creation of weapons-grade plutonium.  In order to temper the situation while attempting to maintain his own agenda, Aladeen heads to a UN summit in New York City.  His plans get derailed when an attempt on his life leaves him without his trademark beard.  In lieu of this, Aladeen is forced to blend with NYC’s populace while trying to regain access to the UN.

The premise is certainly do-able for a comedy, but it just comes together has one big forced mess.  I have no problem with vulgar humor and taking something to the limit in order to achieve a laugh.  However, I can’t reiterate enough just how forced the material is here; vulgar, mild and anything in between.  Yes I got a few laughs out of it (more so than that horrible Dark Shadows I experienced last week), but if I can count those laughs on one hand, then the movie failed and the $8.50 I paid for a matinee was a hosing.  I liken Cohen’s future in film to M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan wowed audiences with his ability to tote them along on a path of intended misguidance, only to offer sizeable shock value at the end.  Unfortunately, audiences grew tired of this after a while because they pretty much knew what to expect.

Cohen is taking a similar road in the sense that his style is a one-trick pony.  You get vulgar, no longer surprising comments, then it’s on to the next scene.  In Borat, he tells a manner-proper woman to wipe his behind after he finishes his business in the bathroom. That’s humorous because it was unexpected, though in context and still had a least a little shock value to it.  Then in Bruno he’s flashing his penis and pushing the sexuality envelope to new horizons.  Ehhh, not my thing.  It’s got shock value yet it’s not funny.  It worked for some, not others.  Now we’ve got The Dictator and it feels like an extension of the Borat character with elements of the crude, once shocking material he could surprise audiences with.  The Dictator is anything but shocking and certainly isn’t an engaging comedy.  Throwing crude lines or actions out there without a factor of cleverness or proper placement renders a scene unfunny, not to mention useless.  There are some funny (though far from hilarious) moments in this movie, but the bottom line is, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the movie.  Not even the great Ben Kingsley, nor the cameos of a few well known actors, could resuscitate any lingering breath into this film.











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