Friday, May 18, 2012
STARS: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
DIRECTOR: Larry Charles
If you live in society, you exist in two different worlds. The first is that of the public persona, where we are all good little boys and girls--socially conscientious and politically correct in word and deed. The second is the world of the inner individual, who instinctively feels there is nothing wrong with making light of things--including our ethnic, cultural, and political differences--as long as it isn't coming from a place of hate. Thank those like Sacha Baron Cohen that we have a place to go and hunker down for a couple of hours--the movie theatre--and make light of our world, because (hope this doesn't come as a shock) it's all an absurdist fantasy anyway.
In contrast to the ambush style mockumentaries Borat and Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen--in The Dictator--is working from a script he co-wrote. The result is a less cringe-inducing and flat-out funnier kind of raunch- fest. And while the bad boy humor here is hit and miss--when Baron Cohen connects, it's a right cross to the funnybone. If you think he's not going there...he's going there. (Though sometimes it's like that hooker you and your buddies took on the night of the senior prom--you enjoyed yourself, but felt kinda dirty afterwards.)
Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen) is the despotic ruler--in the mold of Gadaffi and Saddam Hussein-- of the fictional north African country of Wadiya. He competes in his own Olympics, gives himself an unfair head start, and when other runners are closing on him, simply turns around and shoots them. He gives a speech in which he claims that the nukes his country is developing are for peaceful purposes, and can't keep himself from chortling at his obvious insincerity.
On his way to New York to address the U.N. Security Council over their growing concerns about his development of nuclear weapons, Aladeen is kidnapped by a hitman (John C. Reilly) hired by his scheming uncle, Tamir, (Ben Kingsley) who wants to bring democracy to Wadiya--not for any noble reason, but because it will open up the country's oil fields to development and make him rich. The tyrant escapes, but finds himself replaced by a look-alike decoy (flashbacks to Saddam Hussein). He is cast as a nobody onto the streets of Manhattan, (would've been cool to hear Dylan wafting nasally on the breeze: How does it feel... ) then runs into Zoey, the manager of a health food collective. He will fall for her (in a strange sort of way) as he plots his revenge. Don't get hung up on the plot--it's there mainly to facilitate the delivery of the various gross-out gags.
There is a poignant little soliloquy near the end that serves to remind us the perceived black and white world of bygone eras has long since clouded into muddled shades of grey.
I'm a soundtrack guy, and The Dictator has a great one by Erran Baron Cohen that, in a "serious" film would be conjuring images of exotic sand dunes, but here I was flashing back to a certain Ray Stevens parody tune from the sixties.
Anna Faris brings to Zoey a bewitching blend of naivete and new-age stars in her eyes (she thinks that Aladeen is a political refugee named "Alison Burgers.")
And Ben Kingsley...well, he's done it all now, hasn't he?
The Dictator is being hotly debated as we speak I've already precipitated one online brushfire with my assessment of the film at another site. Bottom line, I think those who are prone to being offended will find something to be offended about. I hear: I'm usually pretty good with this kind of stuff, but right THERE he went too far! Thing is, you've got to take Sacha Baron Cohen or leave him...there's no in between.
Ben Kingsley is an actor I have always admired... so hell, if he signed on and took it as a hoot...that's like The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to me.