Monday, June 4, 2012

Man on Film: The Dictator

Obviously, venturing away from the construct that made Brüno and Borat as successful as they were is a risky gambit for Sacha Baron Cohen, especially considering how poorly (as co-writer/star) his first foray into the realm of scripted comedy went in the form of Ali G Indahouse. While The Dictator is certainly uneven at times, it is certainly a more successful film than his first scripted flick. Some of the film's success could likely be owing to the extra creative talent that was brought in on this project. Larry Charles, director of Cohen's last two star-vehicles, uses his connections to Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld to enlist the talents of Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, all of whose curricula vitae include writing and/or producer credits on both programs (Schaffer is also the co-creator of The League). While The Dictator is far from a tautly told story, the comedic chops of those writers--and obviously Cohen's as well--shine brightly.

Complaints of The Dictator's unevenness are certainly not without merit. Despite its brief 83-minute run time, there are plenty of plot points that hardly seem vital. There are many aspects of the story pertaining to Admiral General Hafiz Aladeen's relationship with activist and co-op manager Zoey (Anna Faris) that aren't especially effective. Obviously the element of the love interest needs to be present to give Aladeen cause to change, but it certainly isn't where the film thrives, despite the comedic talents of Mrs. Chris Pratt. If anything, the film is most successful when the wonderfully funny Jason Mantzoukas is on screen. As anyone who is familiar with his work is fully aware, Mantzoukas is a comic genius, and his presence as the sensible foil to Aladeen's pervasive idiocy is a large part of what makes the film work. Obviously, Sacha Baron Cohen is the star of the show, and as one would expect, he fully commits to the part of hateful ignoramus dictator, but Aladeen doesn't come off nearly as funny without Nadal. His Crocs rant alone is worth the price of admission, at least if you hate Crocs as much as I do.

More importantly, the film is quite funny. There is plenty of incisive satire to accompany the absurd and offensive (I mean this in a positive way) brand of humor on display. While the scenes at the co-op might not all work, the setting does certainly provide an environment rife with opportunities to poke fun at the over-sensitive and impractical left. Every time Aladeen crosses paths with any ethnic group, the offensive and ignorant comments that come out of his mouth are shocking and hilarious. And that is exactly what one with any familiarity with Cohen's past works should expect. The Dictator gives the viewer mostly what is expected. This is neither exceedingly good nor bad. It delivers what one would hope it would while never exactly surprising at any turn.

It is what it is, but at least The Dictator doesn't pull any punches.

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