Well, since my less than glowing review of The Avengers (not that it was all that negative — I just said it was an okay superhero flick, not the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of the world, as some were claiming) didn’t get me tarred and feathered, I thought I would avail myself of the opportunity that this site provides me to take a look at some other films that I don’t get around to reviewing on my own site, http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, all that often because they just don’t fit in with the overall ethos (there’s my pretentious asshole bit out of the way) of what I try to stick to (for the most part, at any rate) over there. Our erstwhile semi-empress, Ms. Bowman, assures me that pretty much anything goes around here, though, so without any further ado I’m going to start up a little on-again/off-again series where I take a look at the various summer blockbusters Hollywood is serving up this summer — something which I did, in fact, do on my own site last year, where it pretty much went over like a lead balloon, given that my readers don’t tend to stop by there looking for much by way of mainstream movie criticism. I trust folks around these parts won’t mind, though, since the mainstream isn’t something my fellow scribes here shy away from.
First up is the newly-released The Dictator, the third collaboration between supposed comic “talent” Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles. First off, let me state for the record that I have no particular objection to crass, vulgar, tasteless humor. In fact, I rather like it. But The Dictator feels less like it has an actual script than a belabored series of barely-strung-together, often overly-complicated, tremendously belabored set-ups for various gross-out gags that you can see coming from a mile (at least) away. Granted, Cohen was never going to get away with pure ad-libbing of the sort that he did in Borat again, and even the half ad-libbed/half-scripted shtick he pulled in Bruno was probably going to be a bridge too far as well, but no way in a million years did I think his first truly non-spontaneous film was going to be this, well, clunky. It just doesn’t flow at all and it’s that blatant telegraphing of oncoming supposed “jokes,” rather than the nature of said jokes themselves, that makes this flick feel like such an insult to the audience’s collective intelligence.
Plus, there’s a none-too-subtle political agenda at work here that I find particularly underhanded and reprehensible. Let’s be honest — in between wasted cameos from the likes of Megan Fox and John C. Reilly, and criminally wasting the talents of Ben Kinglsey (who, sadly, has shown is recent years that he’ll do anything for a buck), The Dictator has one driving message from start to finish : Ahmadinejad (who Cohen’s Aladeen character is clearly based on) is a crazy loon, Iran (which the country of Wadiya that Aladeen rules over is clearly based on) is not to be trusted, the Iranians really are building nuclear weapons no matter what they say, they really want to wipe Israel off the map no matter what they say, and everyone, even cool Hollywood liberals, should get on board with the idea of bombing/and or invading them right now.
Seriously, I swear I’m not being paranoid or reading too much into things here. Before he gets lost in New York after being deposed (momentarily) by his uncle and falls in love with Anna Faris while working at her food co-op, Cohen’s Aladeen snickers as he denies his nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-producting purposes, and guffaws and snickers as he promises to leave Israel alone. Of course, the US news media assures us that Iranian “dictator” (he’s not really even the head political force in the country, but hey, whatever) Ahmadinejad does, indeed, intend to build nuclear weapons (even though more or less every international regulatory body and every truly independent defense analyst and Middle Eastern policy analyst disagrees) and he did threaten to wipe out Israel and denied the Holocaust ever happened (even though accurate translations of his comments show he’s never said anything of the sort and has been intentionally, and quite shamelessly, misquoted), so obviously Cohen’s just taking his material right from the headlines, right? Besides, didn’t I say earlier that Cohen and Charles were cool Hollywood liberals? Why, just look at that admittedly quite spot-on piece of satire at the end of the film (which also marks more or less the only time at which Cohen and Charles hit the right notes) where Aladeen lampoons each and every facet of the so-called “war on terrorism” — he’s clearly not in favor of Bush-Cheney (or maybe that should be Bush-Cheney-Obama, since nothing in this regard has changed since the Texas oilmen left office) policies, so where do I get off thinking they’re trying to push us into another stupid war (and yes,”another stupid war” is what I object to — I’m not in any way saying that Ahmadinejad is a great guy or that Iran isn’t a country in desperate need of wholesale reform from top to bottom — all I’m saying is that bombing and invading them is blatantly hare-brained idea)?
Oh, how short our memories are. Let’s not forget, friends, that we only went to war with Iraq after we had the so-called “opposition” on board, and that a good 75% of House and Senate Democrats voted for that ill-thought-out (to put it mildly!) scheme. Quite clearly Cohen and Charles know who their audience is, and their goal isn’t to push right-wing conservatives into supporting an attack on Iran — after all, they already do — but is rather to convince the so-called “left” (what remains of it, at any rate) that it’s a good idea, as well, since that’s the only quarter any opposition to this idea might possibly come from. And hey, let’s be honest — if Cohen and Charles really understood progressive politics at all, they wouldn’t have a picture of Barack Obama hanging on the wall of Faris’ food co-op. Ralph Nader, maybe, or Bernie Sanders, or Dennis Kucinich — but Obama? Don’t think so. These guys have clearly never spent so much as a minute in a real co-op.
Still, reprehensible as this film’s political chicanery is, it’s not the most offensive thing about The Dictator. Sorry, that still goes to its tremendously lead-footed pacing and insultingly obvious joke set-ups. Seriously, this is a movie that spends over five minutes leading up to a gag about losing a cell phone inside a woman’s vagina, and spends even longer than that cobbling together a lame punchline featuring Aladeen’s even dumber double milking a woman’s boobs into a pail. Comedy 101 — the set-up to a joke should never be more complicated than the joke itself, and when the jokes are this half-assed, they don’t require any more than the briefest of lead-in time. It’s that complete and utter non-spontaneity, ineptly handled and in service of puerile, juvenile shenanigans that hardly even deliver much of a payoff, that marks a bigger crime, in a strictly cinematic sense, than trying to push us into another useless and counterproductive war with a wink and a nudge.