The Dictator

The gags are more exhausted than Gaddafi's regime as Sacha Baron Cohen graduates from documentary punking to standard comedy.

I always had reservations about Sacha Baron Cohen’s sucker-punching humor. Borat was hilarious, unless you happened to be one of the trusting Romanians who were mocked as ignorant peasants in the picture. Brüno, the less-successful followup, also had some funny moments, although not for Ron Paul, or possibly any gay people to whom Cohen’s fake-homosexual come-on to the grandfatherly politician might have seemed stereotypically predatory.

In any case, after Brüno, Cohen’s documentary formula for public humiliation appeared to have exhausted its possibilities – the six-foot, three-inch star had become too conspicuously famous to continue pulling it off. And so now we have The Dictator, a movie that relies, not on queasy embarrassment, but solely on its story. Unfortunately, the story – a parody of a Middle Eastern autocrat not unlike the late Muammar Gaddafi – is strained, and the parody dated. Targeting a lunatic Islamist would have been audacious, if risky (I think we can assume that Cohen values his life). Taking aim at a more traditional madman with a chest full of bogus medals and a fondness for hot female bodyguards is risk-free, but toothless – Gaddafi already parodied himself, and was for decades a figure of media derision.

Cohen, sporting an abundant beard and comic-Arabian accent, plays Admiral General Aladeen, witless oppressor of the fictitious desert republic of Wadiya. Aladeen is a dissolute buffoon (Megan Fox gamely submits to his simulated humping as an imported infidel sex bunny in one brief scene), but blithely threatening, too. (Announcing that Wadiya is two months away from producing weapons-grade plutonium, he notes with a broad snicker that it’s strictly for “peaceful purposes.”)

After some beheading jokes and Jew-shooting jokes, Aladeen is off to New York, where he’s scheduled to address the UN. Trouble begins when he checks into his deluxe hotel (“Twenty dollars a day for Internet? What the fuck?”), and gets worse when he discovers that his scheming stooge, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), has arranged to replace him with the latest Aladeen assassin-magnet, a moronic double named Efawadh (Cohen again). After being shorn of his beard in another plot wrinkle, Aladeen discovers that he can’t even get into the UN, where the imposter Efawadh, coached by Tamir, is giving his own address (punctuated by witless urine-drinking) to the General Assembly.

Now a nobody in a strange land, Aladeen is taken in by a cute Brooklynite named Zooey (Anna Faris, wasted), who runs a hippie-vegan grocery store. She arranges a job there for the marooned dictator, and soon we’re invited to giggle at her inevitably unshaven underarms.

Throughout all of this, there are some very funny scenes – especially the one in which John C. Reilly, as a CIA torturer (or something like that), is given pause when Aladeen begins mocking his instruments of excruciation (“I’ve got one that has Bluetooth”). Mostly, though, the movie is a clothesline for sketch-style gags, one after another, interspersed with pointless cameos by Garry Shandling and Edward Norton, clocking face time in what they must have thought would be a fashionably edgy comedy.

But Cohen’s sitting-duck satire is unlikely to seem all that edgy anymore to the pre-sold anti-PC audience for which it’s been fashioned. (Even the requisite penis-in-your-face shot is anything but unexpected.) And the star reveals his standard-issue progressive political sentiments when he has Aladeen observe that if he were this country’s dictator, the U.S. would be…pretty much the way it already is (Gitmo, and so forth). It’s all too easy. The jokes may still fly, but the edge is gone.      

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  • fried wylie||

    risk-free, but toothless

    why does this phrasing bother me so much? I can't put it into words.

  • fried wylie||

    and was for decades a figure of media derision

    So, like, maybe the movie wasn't made for the 40+ crowd. As someone who just turned 30, I wasn't aware of gadaffi's existence till...well, till I read about him here when his ouster was imminent.

  • Killazontherun||

    You make a good point. For us forty something types, we remember the 80's when Gaddafi was public enemy #1, and you couldn't go to a state fair without the site of several people with his picture in sites on their tee shirts.

  • fried wylie||

    couldn't go to a state fair without the site of several people with his picture in sites on their tee shirts.

    Wasn't that the ayatollah? (only aware of that because of a Simpsons reference.)

  • BakedPenguin||

    That was the late 70's. The Ayatollah Assahola t-shirts were all the rage 1979-1980. I was in grade school and wanted one.

  • Almanian...still||

    I remember one of my future fraternity brothers in 1980 (my freshman year in college) had a letter shirt with "Fuck Iran" on the back.

    Good times, good times...

  • Almanian...still||

    God our shirts were great. Later ones included "Eat the Dead", "Shoot to Maim" and "Parthenophobic" (look it up).

  • TheZeitgeist||

    God I'm old.

    Ayatollah Kookamami was early eighties Thriller bad Muslimoid.

    By 1986 Libya clown was big. (I even remember the Line of Death in the Gulf of Sidra and the USS Coral Sea because I was making a model of that exact ship then); so would this be more of the Bad era 80's Muslimoid?

    I get all my Muslimoids mixed up anymore. Wait...I remember, this would be The Bengals Walk Like an Egyptian 80's era Bad Muslimoid, given Muammar was in the video.

    Damn, I AM old. Fuck.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    You and me buddy. You and me.

    Child of the 80s here. 40 years old.

    Not handling it well.

    Mostly because I'm immature.

    Ass clown Gaddafi, Red Dawn, Sting wondering if the Russians loved their children, the music of U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, Duran Duran, Culture Club, The Lonesome Jubilee, Mainstream media making fun of Reagan, It's Your Move, Breakfast Club, teenage crush on a girl who still haunts me, Bird-Johnson, Gretzky and the Oilers, Joe Montana, Magnum PI, The A-Team, and so on.

    And of course, those long nights wasted in the local park by the French-Canadian church that resulted in average marks at school.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Oh. How could I forget the Expos? The coke era in MLB. The tennis rivalries were great too. Come to think of it, has there been a greater dynasty in boxing than the Leonard-Hearns-Hagler fisticuff classics?

    Nostalgia is a bitch.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'm remarkably indifferent to Sacha Baron Cohen's work.

  • ||

    He lost me with Da Ali G Show, the proto-Chav.

  • Almanian...still||

    Ali G was the shit.

    Everything since pretty much sucked.

  • ||

    Ali G was the shit.

  • cthorm||

    You misspelled "Reviles" in the title.

  • ||

    Success always seems to make creative types much more conservative. I really enjoyed Borat but haven't watched a single SBC joint since then as he seems to have lost his edge.

  • mauricegirodias||

    My kid loved his singing on "Move It."

  • Sudden||

    Is Anna Faris wasted all throughout the film and if so, on what substance? Or was it her performance just wasted?

  • Ted S.||

    Alt-text fail: you seem to think the Ritz Brothers were actually funny.

    (I'll admit I only remember them from One in a Million and The Goldwyn Follies, but it's not as if they were funny in either of those.)

  • Almanian...still||

    A Sacha Baron Cohen movie NOT funny?

    Son, I am surprise.

    /sarc

  • Intn'l House of Badass||

    Sacha Baron Cohen has perfected the art of unfunny comedy, and thus may be assured of his lack of a place in history.

  • Captain Freedom||

    Hmmm...which will be worse, this lazy crap, or Battleship? Well, I know which will make more money...

  • Drake||

    I didn't realize Ben Kingsley was in it. How much does he look like Hamid Karzai - they even put the same stupid beanie on him.

  • Mr Whipple||

    These squirrels are acting weird today.

  • Rug Pilot||

    He lost me with Borat, who is obviously not Kazakh but an Uzbek spy. Since I don't go to movies very often (Think years between shows), I will pass on this one too.

  • Voros McCracken||

    Did Borat drink your battery fluid?

  • joy||

    Mostly, though, the movie is a clothesline for sketch-style gags, one after another, interspersed with pointless cameos by Gary Shandling and Edward Norton, http://www.petwinkel.com/pet-burberry-c-20.html clocking face time in what they must have thought would be a fashionably edgy comedy.

  • RandomJackass||

    damn spam

  • lala||

    Dat is de juiste weblog voor iedereen die behoefte heeft om uit te zoeken naar informatie over dit onderwerp. Je realiseert je veel zijn bijna zware ruzie met je (niet dat ik eigenlijk nodig zou hebben ... haha). Je zet zeker een nieuwe draai aan een onderwerp thats geschreven over jaren. Mooi spul, gewoon geweldig!


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  • amy56||

    Cohen, sporting an abundant beard and comic-Arabian accent, plays Admiral General Aladeen, witless oppressor of the fictitious desert republic of Wadiya. Aladeen is a dissolute buffoon (Megan Fox gamely submits to his simulated humping as an imported infidel sex bunny in one brief scene), but blithely threatening, too. http://www.toairmax.com/ (Announcing that Wadiya is two months away from producing weapons-grade plutonium, he notes with a broad snicker that it’s strictly for “peaceful purposes.”)

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