For the past year or so, I haven’t been able to go to a movie without seeing the trailer for the new film from the creators of Borat, The Dictator. The first few times I saw the trailer, I chuckled at a few scenes and I rolled my eyes a few times and I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll see that.” And then I had to sit through that trailer another 79 times and I stopped laughing and rolling my eyes because I had reached the point where I could practically recite the entire damn trailer by memory. For a while there, I told myself, “There’s no way I’m going to waste my time seeing this.” But, just a week ago, I realized that, after seeing the trailer 139 times, I had no choice but to see it.
I needed closure.
I finally saw The Dictator last Wednesday and my reaction to the film can best be summed up by a mild chuckle and a shrug of my shoulders. It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a rather forgettable one.
In the Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen plays General Aladeen, the ruthless leader of the Middle Eastern country of Wadiya. Aladeen spends his time playing video games, rewriting the dictionary, ordering executions, and trying to develop a nuclear weapons program. Aladeen is a pretty bad guy but he’s also strangely likable because 1) he’s more stupid than evil and 2) he’s played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Anyway, Aladeen goes to New York to deliver a speech to the United Nations and while there, he’s kidnapped by an assassin (a hilarious John C. Reilly) who was hired by Aladeen’s uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley, who has pretty much cornered the market when it comes to playing evil uncles). Though Aladeen loses his beard in the process, he manages to escape the assassin and he soon finds himself lost and unrecognized on the streets of New York City. With the unwitting help of a clueless pro-democracy activist (a very funny Anna Faris), Aladeen attempts to figure out a way to thwart Tamir’s plan to introduce democracy to Wadiya.
Watching The Dictator is something of an odd experience because, while the film itself is full of funny moments and Sacha Baron Cohen shows an admirable willingness to follow his character to the most of logical (and illogical) of extremes, it’s also a strangely forgettable film. It’s certainly funnier than the typical episode of Family Guy (I hate that freaking show, by the way) but it’s nowhere near as profound as a below-average episode of Community (which was the best show on TV last season, in my always correct opinion). Director Larry Charles doesn’t seem to be sure whether he’s trying to make a thought-provoking satire or if he’s just trying to make a broad, gross-out comedy that just happens to have an international backdrop. The end result is a film that is extremely uneven, a film that climaxes with a speech that feels like it was taken straight out of the Occupy handbook despite the fact that the movie has just spent the last 70 minutes poking fun at the Leftist stridency of the Occupy movement through the character played by Anna Faris.
(Personally, I preferred the film when it was simply content to be funny as opposed to when it tried to be important.)
Watching this film, it became apparent to me that, for all of his comedic talent, Baron Cohen works best when his cartoonish (if well-played) characters are placed in a recognizable reality. Baron Cohen needs a “straight man” to play off of and unfortunately, The Dictator doesn’t provide him with that. Everyone’s equally cartoonish in this film and, as a result, the movie makes us laugh but it never really makes us think.
There’s a part of me that always wants to declare that I’m officially “burned out” on Sacha Baron Cohen because, seriously, it’s become rather trendy to claim to be a huge fan of his work. Seriously, I’m at a point now where if I one more person brags to me about how much they loved Borat (always speaking in a tone as if to suggest that only they have seen and appreciated this “obscure” film), I am going to scream. However, every time I get close to getting on twitter for the sole purpose of making snarky remarks about the guy, I see him give a surprisingly good performance in a film like Hugo. The Dictator may not be Sacha Baron Cohen’s best film but I still look forward to seeing what he does in the future.