Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris and Ben Kinglsey
Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the bravest, smartest and most talented actor/comedians on the planet, with his prior works being the definition of pushing the envelope. Therefore he seemed to be the perfect person to front this film, however while his performance is suitably impressive, it is the script (An element so much more important this time around) that lets him and the whole film down. While The Dictator is not a film that one would expect to find enriching on a narrative level, it doesn’t mean that the weakness of its story cannot be criticized. While the story is essentially an excuse to string certain jokes together, you do not buy into or believe the story and therefore do not buy into and laugh at a vast majority of this film’s comedy.
For too much of the film, it could be any comedy and given the potential that accompanies this film's concept, that is a comedic crime. The middle stretch of the film could be any wacky, slapstick, broad, silly fish out of water comedy, with the political satire dropped in exchange for scenes of urine, poo, breasts, vaginas, penises and so on. Now while nobody is above a bit of silly body humour it is material that doesn’t age well or react kindly to repetition and for most of this film is not partnered with intelligence and instead comes off as lazy and desperate, shocking considering the intelligence and talent behind this film. Sacha Baron Cohen is braver, smarter and funnier than the majority of this film’s eighty-four minute running time.
It should be stressed that the film is far from awful and there are some major commendable elements that will be mentioned later, however judging this film based on its talent and concept, with the expectations those two things bring with them, it is hard not to be disappointed in this film and to have expected better. The film starts strongly with a title card that reads, “In loving memory of Kim Jong Il” and the film’s titular dictator playing a Wii terrorism game, within which are levels titled, “London Bombings” and “Munich Olympics” Then the film either loses its nerve or runs out of ideas, rushes the dictator to the U.S.A, shifts “villain” duties towards Ben Kingsley’s character, robs the central character of his role (And more importantly his beard) and never fully regains its potential until its last 10-15 minutes, where, Sacha Baron Cohen is the dictator once again.
The problem with the majority of this film’s, “story” is that it doesn’t seem to get the joke. The dictator not being the dictator and forced to work in a shop in America is not the joke, the joke is the dictator being the dictator and it is no coincidence that the film is at its best, bravest and funniest when that is the case. The plot involving Ben Kingsley is pulled down by the presence of an idiotic double of the dictator, a character who reeks of desperation, laziness or just in need of a rewrite, as he is literally just a walking tool for them to exercise what seems like all the ideas and jokes that should have hit the cutting room floor. When an eighty-four minute film feels a bit flabby and longer than that, you know that your story and material isn’t quite working as much as it should.
While I could criticize the film for incredibly sudden and unrealistic character changes and an unbelievable romance, that is a level of criticism and analysis that even I believe is unfair to subject this film to. Ultimately this film’s major flaw is that it didn’t make me laugh enough, it is hit and miss by nature (As is probably much of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work to be fair) however this time for me personally (Comedy is arguably the most subjective of genres) it was more miss than hit. However when this film hits, it really hits, which makes the misses so much more disappointing.
There is a scene in a helicopter, which is an example of comedy that cuts right into the post 9-11 social climate and the way in which communication between Arab men in a Western setting has become a source of suspicions amongst the paranoid. It is also helpful that the scene not only is a moment of genuine social commentary with a political basis, but it’s very funny. The character Ana Faris plays is one that could have potentially been more annoying than she was and I found it interesting how through her, the filmmakers were in a sense turning the tables on some of their more radically liberal audience members. The problem with her character however, is that for most of the film the dictator is reacting to her and other characters than to American culture. The line, “20 dollars for internet! And they call me an international criminal!?” Promises more of a humorous perspective that like many of the ideas of the film are never fully capitalized upon.
However despite all my problems with this film (As previously said there is only one really and that is its lack of laughs and satire) there is one moment towards the film’s end, which is everything I wanted from the film and genuinely elevated it into a position where the film gave me something I would remember it by for this and many a year. This moment is a speech that, while not the high benchmark for speeches in comedies that have the word, dictator, in the title, is arguably one of the more finely written pieces of dialogue, in film, in 2012. It is a moment of sharp satire and surprising more so that, a film in which a character compares the United States to a dictatorship in an incredibly convincing way and in the context of an arguably heart-warming and glorious scene, is being distributed by Paramount Pictures. For that element and scene alone, The Dictator is memorable and worth a recommendation.
Ultimately The Dictator has a good central performance from Sacha Baron Cohen and has roughly 15 of its 84 minutes that lives up to the expectations that accompany his projects. The political satire is sadly missing from much of the film, however when it does come it arguably makes the entire film and lifts it out of mediocrity (Imagine if the whole film had consisted of that kind of humour) Cameos from the likes of Megan Fox and Edward Norton fail to impress, however the film has just enough funny and memorable moments and ends in such a way, that it scrapes a pass from me.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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