Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Dictator

I recently had the opportunity to visit New Orleans, Louisiana for the first time since leaving law school and moving away in 2008. While there, I met up with an old law-school roommate, Mr. Guillermo Cancio, and he invited me to see the new film The Dictator, which had come out the day before. Not only was it a great chance to catch up with an old friend, but it was the perfect opportunity for a new Buddies Forever Movie Club review.

According to IMDb, The Dictator is “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” It stars Sacha Baron Cohen, who you no doubt remember from films such as Borat and Bruno. Both those films are notorious for their vulgarity and bigotry as they explore such issues as intolerance, racism, terrorism, homosexuality, etc.

Both films crossed the line numerous times, utilizing uncomfortable situations and a mockumentary filming style to dupe unsuspecting "actors," a recipe that resonated with viewers. Granted, a slew of folks were offended and hated those movies, but even more laughed their asses off.

I was among the masses that enjoyed Borat, and I thought Bruno was decent, so I expected The Dictator to follow in their footsteps. While it did just that, the outcome wasn’t the same. Instead of incorporating unsuspecting participants by filming social pranks, The Dictator goes a pure Hollywood route, meaning everyone in the film is in fact a real actor. There are no contrived, awkward social interactions that have characterized Cohen’s previous films. Removing that crucial ingredient made things somewhat bland.

While I was disappointed by this fact, there were still plenty of classic-Cohen moments. His racism, which is passed off as naivety, is there, though hit and miss when it came to laughs, and the same can be said about the disgusting/repulsive/sickening tactics.

One of my favorite moments involved Cohen’s character, Aladeen, and his accomplice Nadal, played by Jason Mantzoukas, in a helicopter tour over New York City. The two are using it as a way of reconnoitering a hotel, but of course the situation is presented with a terrorism angle. The scene I’m talking about has been featured in the previews, but the film expands on it greatly. I certainly had a good laugh, even though they were speaking Hebrew and not Arabic, and there were a few other moments like it that made the film amusing.

Other things I liked were Bobby Lee’s portrayal of Mr. Lao, a I’m-not-homosexual-but-on-a-power-trip Chinese businessman. He only had a few brief scenes, but every one was hilarious, especially the ones featuring his wife and an Edward Norton cameo.

Speaking of cameos, there were quite a few throughout the movie that gave it a little spice. Fred Armisen, Chris Elliott, John C. Reilly, Megan Fox, Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz were some of the actors I recognized and appreciated in their limited roles.

On the flip side, I was very disappointed with Ben Kingsley’s character, Tamir, who is an advisor that betrays Aladeen. It was an extremely lackluster and halfhearted performance, almost as if he was in it simply to collect a paycheck.

Cameos and helicopter scene aside, many of the jokes in The Dictator fell flat. I wasn’t feeling the hairy-armpit, child-of-the earth-shtick applied to Anna Faris’ character, Zoey. I like her as an actress, but wasn’t feeling the connection as Aladeen’s love interest.

For me, The Dictator signaled the continued decline of Sacha Baron Cohen’s film career. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t crashed and burned, but in my opinion it is waning. I loved him in 2006’s Talladega Nights:The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Borat, liked him in 2009’s Bruno, and was merely appeased by The Dictator.

It was an alright movie, one you might find funnier and more entertaining than I did, but I’d wait for Netflix or Redbox if I were you.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 47%

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