The Dictator - RATING: 2.5 out of 5
Bernie - RATING: 4.5 out of 5
It's an old dictum that's so obvious it's almost cliché: truth is stranger than fiction. But it's also the secret power behind Sacha Baron Cohen's comedies.
The cringe-worthy pleasures of his previous films Bruno and Borat were twofold. First, there was the initial outrageous and offensive vision or statement, followed by an equally amusing reaction of a poor schmuck caught in his trap. Sometimes the targets were disgusted, sometimes they just calmly agreed. It was a warped funhouse mirror reflected back at us.
The biggest shock of Cohen's new comedy The Dictator is that it's a scripted comedy. Cohen's simply too big, too recognizable to be ambushing Joe Public anymore. Instead, he's hamming it up as the Supreme Leader Dictator Aladeen, a bearded megalomaniac presiding over the fictional Republic of Wadiya.
By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Sorry, Sacha Baron Cohen fans, but The Dictator is more Bruno than Borat.
In SBC-speak, that means the fall from grace continues for the British comedian who made such an immediate splash with Borat.
Comic actor-writer Cohen picked up an Oscar nomination for his 2006 script for Borat, which wowed audiences as a confrontational ambush satire with originality and freshness.
Borat was a mockumentary. It was gasp-inducingly outrageous, equal-opportunity offensive, and occasionally spit-out-your-popcorn hilarious.
It is 14 years since British comic Sacha Baron Cohen created his first alter-ego, dimwit wannabe gangster Ali G. Then came male model Bruno and the peripatetic Kazakh, Borat. No longer, you suspect, is there anyone in the western world ready to be duped by Baron Cohen. So he's headed mainstream, with a straightforward comedy in which the stooges are not easily befuddled, everyday Americans, just professional actors.
Removing that squirm factor sets the comedy bar somewhat higher for The Dictator, in which Baron Cohen plays North African despot General-Admiral Aladeen (a rather thinly veiled Muammar Gaddafi), forced to travel to New York to prevent a United Nations-sponsored invasion.
In third place, The Dictator collected a decent $17.4 million for a five-day tally of $24.5 million. (The movie opened on Wednesday.) The result is a bit of a setback for star Sacha Baron Cohen, whose prior comedies Borat and Bruno debuted to $26.5 million and $30.6 million, respectively. Now the question is whether the Paramount movie will fall at the same velocity as Bruno, which ultimately ended its domestic run with just $60.1 million. Both The Dictator and Bruno earned a poor “C” grade from CinemaScore audiences, which isn’t a promising sign. However, whereas Bruno dropped an alarming 39 percent from Friday to Saturday, The Dictator managed to rise 16 percent.
After his live-ammo situationist spoofs Borat and Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen has returned to straight fiction-features with his broad comedy satire The Dictator. This is not, repeat not, a cinephile homage to Chaplin's The Great Dictator. It is less edgy than Baron Cohen's previous two films, featuring big, conventionally contrived gags and a colossal central turn from the man himself. Baron Cohen's Dictator is set to make Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau a model of subtlety and sensitivity. The movie is in the fish-out-of-water tradition of Coming to America and many others. It doesn't, in truth, offer much of a twist on the genre. It does, however, deliver laughs and weapons-grade offensiveness.
Production year: 2012
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 83 mins
Directors: Larry Charles
Cast: Anna Faris, Fred Melamed, Jeff Grossman, John C. Reilly, Kevin Corrigan, Megan Fox, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sir Ben Kingsley
More on this film
Baron Cohen plays General Aladeen, the bizarre ruler of the oil-rich north African rogue state Wadiya: he is a satirical version of the Saddams and Gaddafis, those tinpot tyrants whose natural cruelty and vanity was nurtured by the west – maintained as allies to keep other states in line, or repurposed as bogeymen to be defeated when the need arose. A confrontation with Washington looms after the General announces Wadiya was just months away from enriching uranium, and corpses and giggles uncontrollably when trying to claim this was for "clean energy purposes"
“In loving memory of Kim Jong-Il,” reads an epigram at the beginning of “The Dictator,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest send-up of political manners and American exceptionalism.
It’s true that the character Cohen plays, an aggressively bearded tyrant named Admiral General Aladeen, who has ruled the North African country of Wadiya since he was 7, embodies all of the absurdities of despotic power, including its preening vanity and chronic insecurity.
Cohen has thankfully dispensed with ambushing real-life people for squirm-inducing interviews. But an early stunt involving a Wii game based on the 1972 Munich Olympics falls flatter than a stale matzo, a running gag about Hollywood stars selling sexual favors quickly loses steam and it can be stipulated that rape jokes simply aren’t funny.
Then again, at a lean 83 minutes, it will be worth the ride for Cohen fans just to hear choice Arabic renditions of “Everybody Hurts” and “Let’s Get It On,” and for a pointed third-act speech questioning a democracy ruled by its wealthiest 1 percent (hint: rhymes with “Mamerica”).
Even amid the hit-and-miss broadsides and laugh-free longueurs that make up most of “The Dictator,” Cohen’s acute hypocrisy-detector keeps on ticking, if barely.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, profanity and some violent images. 83 minutes.