By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Sayed Badreya, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, and John C. Reilly
I am going to start this review right off by saying something that is not very controversial: Sacha Baron Cohen’s humor is not for everybody. Just in the last few years, I have seen people either think he is hilarious or that he is just going for the shock and there is no substance to any of his humor. Now, I am going to follow that statement up with something that IS controversial: count me in the crowd that thinks he’s funny. And, I have thought so for a very long time (loved Da Ali G Show). However, I don’t just think he’s funny. I think he is a great satirist. His humor, while mostly crude, also has a way of making people mad because it forces them to look at each other and not like what they see (ask those kids in the RV drinking beer in Borat). All this being said, while I count Borat as being an absolutely hilarious watch, I, for the most part, could not stand the mightily sub-par Bruno (in fact, I don’t think I ever finished watching it). So, needless to say, I went into The Dictator more on the pessimistic side with a slight hint of optism, because I loved the Super Bowl ad they ran for it, and I thought, given the predictably controversial subject matter, there would be more of the satire type humor from Borat and less of the outlandish stuff from Bruno.
I am happy to say that, for the most part, I was right. From the opening frame of the film (musical chanting and a subtitle that reads ‘In Loving Memory of Kim Jong,’ with a huge picture of him splashed upon the screen) I knew that this would be different, and I would actually finish watching his film this time. And, as predicted, not one race is left unoffended. Now, while people will indeed get offended, again, I really just look at this as Cohen forcing them to look upon themselves (and getting some mighty fun laughs while doing it). Also, anyone with fear that the commercials gave away all the funny parts shouldn’t worry: there are way more funny happenings in The Dictator than you think (there is so much more to the helicopter scene than what was shown). All of this worked for me, and when it felt like the film was getting bogged down by the so-so plot against Aladeen that makes it look like he signs a contract of democracy, a swift kick to a kid in the store aisle or Reilly giving a hilarious pronunciation & commentary of Avatar (Aviator) brings it right back to where it wants us.
Not that all the humor here worked. There were some scenes in this movie, specifically bits that involved Kingsley, that felt way off and not even a chuckle was ensued. In fact, Kingsley looked mighty bored here, and I almost felt bad for him as he undoubtedly suffered through being the only character in charge of getting out exposition. His role, as the backstabbing Tamir, was a dreadful addition, and would probably had been better pulled off if someone who actually wanted to be there was cast. However, while Kingsley struggled, I could not get over how good Faris was. Now, while I enjoyed her immensely in 2003’s Lost in Translation, I have witnessed her suffer through film after film trying to make it stay afloat and win over the masses, to unvarious degrees of success (no, the Scary Movie films don’t count. And, did anyone see The House Bunny? Didn’t think so). Here, however, she plays Zoey, worker of the Free Earth store that unwittingly takes Aladeen in to work with her. Surprisingly, in the role of a pawn in this ‘been there, done that’ fish out of water story, Faris won me over. Her interactions with Cohen were the funniest of the film, and it was nice to see her be in a role that almost degrades her character (gotta love those hairy armpits), but at the same time being the person who almost brings Aladeen to reality.
The Dictator, for the most part, is quite a redemption for Cohen. While the humor involving the obviously bored out of his mind Kingsley fell flat, I got a real kick out of seeing Aladeen do things like torture an employee who shoplifts and behead ‘Morgan Freeman’ (nope, not telling you this one). However, out of all of this comedic nonsense, a big highlight for me was hearing how they alter popular songs of both today and yesterday (wait till you hear this rendition of Let’s Get It On). Each and every new one was funnier than the next, and combined with some pretty hilarious cameos (a certain actress here has never been better), I would say that The Dictator is well worth checking out. That is, unless you are one of three people it doesn’t offend.
3.5 out of 5