The Dictator (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Dictator</strong> (2012)

(On-demand, August 2012) After the very-loosely-scripted antics of Borat and Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen is back in a more traditional comedy mold with The Dictator, which follows an arrogant tyrant forced to confront New York City’s harsher realities.  Plot is the least of the film’s concerns, though, as it showcases Cohen’s character work and does its best to subvert most of the usual movie-comedy conventions.  Don’t expect the dictator protagonist to have a pro-democracy change of heart, don’t expect the heroine to break out of her androgyny, and certainly don’t expect the movie to play nice, because it delights in being as offensive as it can be.  There’s something to offend everyone here, but The Dictator at least manages to get a few laughs out of the results.  It’s a very uneven film, with humor as worldly-sophisticated as it can be gross-vulgar, scenes that drag on far after they’ve made their point, or recurring gags that clearly aren’t as funny as the filmmakers intended.  Some of the targets are easy (including an on-the-nose moment in which parallels are made in-between the USA and dictatorships), “eww” is not a synonym for “ha-ha”, and some of the grosser writing felt lazy.  But it works often enough that even the unfunny stuff is bulldozed away by the next rounds of laughs.  Cohen is, even in a scripted setting, as fully committed to his role, and he seems to be setting an example for the other actors trying their best to keep up.  It’s almost always funny seeing actors like Ben Kingsley in those kinds of dumb comedies, not to mention a quick appearance from Edward Norton.  Still, even with the laughter, there’s a lot of slack in The Dictator’s comedy engine, and it’s those kinds of dull moments, leavened by vulgarity, that would make anyone with for a bit more discipline from Cohen or director Larry Charles.  If anything, The Dictator shows that Cohen’s brand of comic offensiveness can be sustained on a script… but it would be better if it was just a bit more controlled.

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