The Dictator

May 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

There seems to be something missing from Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedies since the 2006 smash hit “Borat”. While for the most part I still enjoyed “Bruno”, I felt that he was imposing his agenda to “expose stupid Americans” more and more and hitting you over the head with stupid comedy rather than allowing the comedy to just happen. He takes this to a new level with “The Dictator”, a film so full of comic exposition that it gets rather tiring even at only 83 minutes of Cohen constantly efforting us to “get it”.

The film’s plot, which is as thin as you could possibly use as an excuse to make a feature length film, is simple: tyrannical despot who is unaware of how brutish he is, goes to America after being discovered to be having a possible nuclear plot against us, gets duped by his own assistant (Ben Kingsley) and he’s attacked, beard shaved, and stuck in NYC with no identity. He meets a vegan hipster played typically over the top by Anna Faris (who seems to can’t ever help winking at the camera even if she doesn’t bat an eyelash), and she reforms him and tries to get him to a summit to stop his body double from making a mistake in making Wadiya the next oil country for the world. There’s a bit more to it but you can immediately see where the movie’s going at every turn. To say it’s predictable is a bit of an insult to predictability. If that makes sense.

Cohen tries to blur a line to see if we can understand what he’s parodying. For instance, his character resembles someone Middle Eastern–yet he’s actually North African. The fictional country Wadiya is located in the area that contains some Arab heritage, yet his character Admiral General Aladeen is not Arab. In the film’s funniest scene, he and his former nuclear scientist Nadal speak in their native language in a helicopter confusing the poor dumb American tourists about a possible follow up 9/11 plot that winds up getting them both arrested. We’re not really sure what language it is, but it sounds “Arabic”, and we could easily mistake them for that.

That scene works so well because for that moment, Cohen isn’t trying to tell us what he’s doing. He’s just doing it. There are many scenes in which characters talk and talk, and they ramble about what is right and wrong about this and that and it just seems like you’re watching a first draft of a script whose jokes haven’t been fully worked out yet. There are some scenes that are funny, and there are some big laughs. And of course, since this is Cohen who seems to insist now on being subversive, there are a lot of “offensive” jokes including the film’s opening dedication. I’ve seen far too many “offensive” films to take anything in “The Dictator” as offensive; but even the offensive jokes aren’t very clever and seemed to be aimed only at adolescent boys.

I get that for the most part, that’s probably Cohen’s target audience anyway. I’d say that the guys who make “Jackass” probably would share that audience. But the difference is that Cohen has the ability to reach a far greater audience and has potential to be one of the great political satirists of our era. I think he kind of wasted his time with this one. It could have been on par with “Team America: World Police” as far as making fun of America and also globalism and bad foreign policy–instead, it just merely pokes fun. And a little poking from Sacha Baron Cohen goes a very long way. Literally.

My rating:  :?

Brüno

July 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Sascha Baron Cohen just loves to mess with people. I think my whole review could actually be that one line, and that would suffice as an accurate, detailed depiction of what to expect with this film; or most of what he does, in fact. Cohen did this in 2006 with “Borat”, which was a “great success”; and now he hopes he can redeliver the goods using another persona from his acclaimed (and very funny) show “Da Ali G Show”–this time, the Austrian homosexual fashion zealot, Brüno. Are you prepared for male nudity? Guys, buckle up. It’s a long ride if you aren’t.

The plot of the film, much like in “Borat”, is very thin. The whole basis of the film rides on Brüno getting famous in any way he can. And he tries just about everything you can do–but first and foremost, he must get to America. He takes along his lapdog assistant and goes through some great lengths in order to realize his dream to become famous. He even adopts a black baby and takes him on “Today with Richard Bey”. I didn’t know Bey was still on the air, to be honest. In any event, Brüno has some wild misadventures trying to get into the spotlight: he gets an agent to help him launch a reality-talk interview show and actually gets a test audience to screen the show, and they subsequently watch his “package” dangle for a little bit (even talk to them), and watch him “dance” while they get one second of an “interview” with Harrison Ford. In one of the funniest moments of the film, he tries to “seduce” Ron Paul into his room in order to make a “sex tape” that can be circulated around the internet.

When his dreams of fame fail, he tries to do anything he can to get back on the horse. He even tries to turn straight. He goes to a gay converter, and he tries to go hunting with some real men (another funny sequence, if a bit played out); he also goes to a swinger’s party–and this was where the film impressed me most. Not because of how far he went, but because I could not believe the MPAA allowed what pretty much was porno right on the big screen, in a summer movie. Genius!

This is kind of the greatness and weakness of the film, and I was even a bit distracted by the somewhat slow pacing. Because there wasn’t a real plot, you were just watching Brüno do crazy things. And, to me, there seemed to be a bit more culture and depth in “Borat”. How many jokes can you make about rednecks and fundamentalists? The joke seemed to be wearing thin quicker in this film than in previous Cohen offerings. Another thing was that while Borat has an assuming charm about him; Brüno is not very likable. He is brash, and he’s very stupid in an unengaging way. He’s just vapid and superficial. With Borat it seems to be more of the language barrier and culturual barrier that separates him from any normal person. But Brüno just seems out of it. I know that’s part of the joke, but if you’re going to give us 90 minutes of the guy, I think he should at least be somewhat sympathetic. And because he’s flamboyant, and obnoxious, the homosexuality seems to become more of the joke than anything else, and again, that wears thin as well. We get it. He’s gay. We get it. Homophobes are uncomfortable around it. Yes, can you make something else out of this now? Or can we move on?

Perhaps I’m nitpicking–this film has some uproarious moments, too. It’s also very shocking at times, sometimes outdoing “Borat”. And I did look into the goings on to see what was staged and what was natural. A lot of it does check out. But I really wonder how much deeper Cohen wants to take this. I’m hoping this is his last venture into this kind of film. He is a very clever satirist and a very good actor and writer–I think he can do much better things now. I know this will make him more money, and it’s what the people want; but I’d like to see him really extend himself for his next film, should he continue making them.

My rating: :-)