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The Dictator - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Dictator
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

It would be easy to say Sacha Baron Cohen's shtick is getting tired. Indeed, his attending interviews in character as The Dictator of The Dictator was, in the end, nowhere near as entertaining as the movie itself. Why? Because those stunts were too similar to his approach to both Bruno (2009) and Borat (2006) -- and, thankfully, The Dictator takes a more conventional approach to its film making.

The Dictator is not guerilla comedy. There are no real people serving as unsuspecting victims of Baron Cohen's antics. This is all fiction, all the time. And, lo and behold, that actually does a better job of showcasing his comedic talents, as now there is no unknown variable of civilian reactions to edit around.

Thus, this movie is straightforward comedy -- in all its deliciously tasteless glory. These days, it's kind of amazing when a movie can manage to be both shocking and funny. I might not go so far as to call it hilarious, but it comes close. I laughed a lot, which is all anyone should want from a movie like this. Sometimes the comedy doesn't quite work. I didn't see the necessity of the scene in which Aladeen (Baron Cohen) delivers a baby in a natural foods store aisle and loses his cell phone in the vagina. Oh yeah, he also talks through the open vagina to someone on the other end of the phone.

A scene like that steals focus from the comedy that really works here: that mocking of the repressive ideals of a North African dictator, by having a man celebrate them to laughable effect. (At one point he asks a pregnant lady, "Are you having a boy, or an abortion?") Aladeen is never identified as a Muslim, I suspect quite deliberately. He is presented as completely out of touch, but there's really no specific religious element to his depiction. He's certainly a slap in the face of the repressive culture of a region -- which, of course, most Americans (including myself) will be okay with.

That, likely, will include many ignorant Americans -- such as the bigoted character played in a brief part (like many famous people appearing in cameos in this film) by John C. Reilly, who confuses Aladeen by referring to him as "an A-rab" (which, evidently, he is not). Reilly plays a man hired to kill and torture Aladeen, but Aladeen gets to him by scoffing at his antique torture tools.

Most of The Dictator works with a symmetry that seems to be occurring in spite of itself. It shouldn't be so funny and endearing, especially with its massive amount of off-color humor, but it is. The only consistently distracting element is Ben Kingsley as Tamir, Aladeen's second-in-command. Maybe it's unfair to Kingsley to say this, but as funny as the movie is, and as versatile an actor as he is, it seems beneath him. What is he doing in this movie? He never even gets a chance, actually, to be funny himself. He serves mostly as a plot point; he plays the part just as straight as he does any other -- he's just surrounded by preposterous people and situations.

Tamir is plotting Aladeen's assassination. He finds a body double (also played by Baron Cohen, naturally), and after John C. Reilly cuts off the real Aladeen's beard, Aladeen wanders New York City in shabby clothes and unrecognized. He looks on helpless as his body double is planted in position to speak to the U.N. and sign a Constitution making his country a democracy. The Dictator doesn't waste any time mocking the United State's modern conception of "democracy," and in those moments gets dangerously close to being heavy-handed. But then we return to scenes of a downtrodden Aladeen landing a job at a local natural foods co-op, and the fun begins again.

Aladeen falls for a stereotypically feminist hippie-type working at the store, creating one of the least interesting relationships in the movie. Anna Faris doesn't have much in the way of charisma, or chemistry with Baron Cohen. She feels a bit miscast. That doesn't preclude effective comedy, thankfully; Baron Cohen can be counted on to make pretty much every scene -- including the unnecessary ones -- funny.

And that, as always, is all you need to know, really: The Dictator is a genuinely funny movie, enough so that it's worth going to see. It's not like other comedies, or other movies, or even other Sacha Baron Cohen movies. It's far from perfect, but it is its own entity, and it succeeds on its own terms.

Ben Kingsley serves as Sacha Baron Cohen's second in command in THE DICTATOR.

Overall: B+
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