Susan Granger's review of 'The Dictator'
Published 1:23 pm, Friday, May 25, 2012
Cheeky Sasha Baron Cohen has carved out an eccentric cinematic career by shocking audiences -- first in "Borat," then in "Bruno" -- by mercilessly tweaking our socio-political sensibilities. But this time, his attempt at across-the-board cultural offensiveness falls flat.
As General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen, he's an amoral, greedy, corrupt dictator, ruling the isolated, oil-rich North African state of Wadiya. At his side is his trusted advisor, Uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley), who serves as Chief of Security, Head of the Secret Police and Procurer of Compliant Women (like Megan Fox). But, recently, Aladeen's been pestered by the United Nations to allow a Security Council inspector into his top-secret nuclear weapons facility. So Aladeen and his entourage travel to address this issue at the U.N. General Assembly, settling into the Lancaster Hotel, where he is given a less-than-cordial reception by exiled Wadiyans. A betrayal from within strips Aladeen of his identity, forcing him onto the streets of Manhattan to fend for himself - until he's rescued by a conscientious political protestor, Zoey (Anna Faris), who takes him to Brooklyn, where she runs an eco-friendly, natural-food cooperative. Meanwhile, Uncle Tamir has disguised an addled goatherd `double' as Aladeen and is ready to declare democracy in Wadiya.
Written by Baron Cohen and three other scripters and directed by Larry Charles, the humor is hit-and-miss. Some sight-gags are hilarious, like Aladeen's Wall of Shame, filled with photographs of paid sexual conquests culled from the highest Hollywood echelons, and Aladeen's surveillance helicopter ride over Manhattan on which he and his crony (Jason Mantzoukas) terrify fellow passengers who think they're plotting another 9/11. But most are not - although Aladeen's final satirical speech about democracy is diabolically perceptive.
As he proved in Martin Scorsese's fable "Hugo," talented Sasha Baron Cohen can meld his persona into an acting ensemble, so perhaps it's time to try that kind of performing again.
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On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Dictator" is a dumb, infantile 3, proving that even the most audacious, belligerent vulgarities get boring when you repeat them often enough.