Paramount // 2012 // 83 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 13th, 2012
Comedy is subjective...unless you live under oppression.
If you see the words "Sacha," "Baron," and "Cohen" on the screen, you can bet you're going to be in for comedy that tries to push boundaries as much as humanly possible. The infamous star of the hit film Borat takes over the big screen in the new comedy The Dictator, now available on Blu-ray care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
General Shabazz Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen, Hugo) rules the North African nation of Wadiya with an iron fist. He creates his own Olympics, where he wins in every category, mostly by shooting other participants who try to best him. Aladeen has won the Wadiya equivalent of an Oscar multiple times, though the voting is swayed in his favor. He has people killed whenever they disagree with him, and makes love to any woman he chooses, including starlet Megan Fox. For Aladeen, it's a powerful and easy life.
Aladeen's world takes a quick 180, when the international community informs him they will bomb his country with air strikes if he doesn't comply with a nuclear inspection by the United Nations. Aladeen makes his way to New York City to make a speech about the inspection, but is kidnapped and killed before that can happen. Well, almost killed. The General survives the assassination attempt, but is quickly replaced by a body double, set in place by one of Aladeen's higher ups (Ben Kingsley, Gandhi). Aladeen must learn how to survive in the Big Apple, as well as woo a local organic market owner named Zoey (Anna Faris, Scary Movie) whom has shown interest in the powerful leader. Now Aladeen must figure out away to dispense with the impostor or forfeit the reigns of Wadiya!
The Dictator is the kind of movie that revels in lowest common denominator humor. It's not that I'm against toilet based comedy -- I like a good fart joke, as much as the next guy -- but when that seems to be the driving factor, I start to get antsy. At one point, the General swings from a large wire and slams into a window without any pants on, his hairy genitals flying towards the camera. I was immediately reminded of Borat where Sacha Baron Cohen wrestles a large, sweaty bear of a man in a hotel room...naked. I didn't find that very funny, either.
I was one of the few people not amused by Borat. I found it to be rude and often too mean spirited for its own good. I had even worse feelings about Brüno, a movie so unfunny I turned it off halfway through. You can imagine how excited I was to walk into The Dictator. The good news is this film is light years better than Cohen's pervious work. The bad news is it's still not all that funny.
I've never been able to put a finger on why Cohen grates so much my nerves. Part of it might be his aura; with Borat and Brüno, Cohen comes off as a comedian who thinks he's better than everyone else, especially his audience. Case in point: near the end of The Dictator, General Aladeen makes a speech that essentially rips apart America and how our country is run, disguised as irony and spoof. Now, I realize this is satire and I should be laughing, but I found it tough to swallow from a foreign comedian coming in and making an American movie that not only mocks our way of life, but criticizes it (no matter how truthful it might be). Criticism is fine, but I don't feel the need to pay $10 to be yelled at by someone from another country. It feels underhanded and made me bristle. Then again, maybe that was Cohen's purpose all along.
Political complaints aside, The Dictator gets a few hearty laughs but struggles to find its footing. The movie comes alive in brief spurts, as when Aladeen works behind a deli counter and has to deal with customers. The funniest moment comes during a helicopter tour over New York City as Aladeen and Wadiya's former chief nuclear physicist have a discussion that, to the other passengers, sounds like terrorists planning to blow up the Statue of Liberty. These are the moments I wish Cohen would have focused more on, instead of the inane and rather banal impostor plot.
A romantic subplot with a pixyish Anna Faris consists of Aladeen trying to get Zoey to shave her armpits and have sex with him. Ben Kingsley appears to be slumming for a paycheck as Aladeen's Uncle Tamir, playing second fiddle to Cohen in a rather thankless role as the requisite villain. Cohen himself is acceptable in the title role, although his beard looks like ten million grizzly bear hairs glued on his face. Cohen can be an interesting presence on film (Martin Scorsese's Hugo is proof of that), but when he's given free reign I tend to tune out. I'm hoping his future films focus less on trying to offend, push the envelope, or harshly slam his audience's homeland, and more on being genuinely funny, well-written pieces of cinema.
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, the transfer is consistently good but never that exciting. A political comedy doesn't really lend itself to an image that truly pops off the screen; colors are vibrant while black levels are solid. The picture is clearly rendered without any defects or imperfections. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is appropriate but never overwhelmingly good. There are moments when directional effects come into play, including a helicopter sequence and some city sequences, but this is a rather front heavy mix that sports clearly distinguished music, effects, and dialogue. Paramoun offers up alternate language Dolby 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, and Portuguese, as well as English SDH, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles.
Bonus features are rather slim, but we do get 30 minutes of deleted and extended scenes (in HD), a music video for the song "Your Money is on the Dresser," an interview with Larry King, and standard def DVD and UltraViolet copy. The film itself is presented in its original theatrical format, and an unrated/uncut version, although the differences are negligible.
Those who like Cohen's brand of madcap zaniness will find a lot to enjoy here. As for me, I just don't find the guy all that funny. The Dictator may be Sacha Baron Cohen's best film to date, but it still isn't all that great.
Guilty of showing one too many male genitalia.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Cut
* Extended/Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* DVD Copy
* UltraViolet Copy