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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Dictator | Sasha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly | Review

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The Dictator

By Judy Thorburn

British comic actor Sasha Baron Cohen once again teams up with Larry Charles, who directed his two previous mockumentaries Bruno and Borat. This time around they chose to work from a standard narrative (cowritten by Baron Cohen) that too often misses the mark.

In his latest flick that pushes all the conservative buttons, Baron Cohen embodies the persona of Admiral General Aladeen, the morally corrupt, oppressive (like there is any other kind), democracy hating dictator of the fictitious North African country Wadiya, that he has ruled since the age of seven. Not only is he a self indulgent, ruthless tyrant who orders executions at a whim, his bedroom wall is filled with photos of celebrities, that for the right price, he has slept with including Oprah, Lindsay Lohan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and in brief cameo roles, Megan Fox and (an even quicker, wink or you will miss him, cameo) Edward Norton.

The plot kicks into gear when it becomes known to the world that Aladeen is attempting to build a nuclear weapon.  Threatened with military action by the U. S. he  travels to New York to address the United Nations, unaware that his trusted advisor Tamir (a wasted, unfunny Ben Kingsley) has planned for him to be killed and replaced by a dim witted body double he can control.  Shortly after arriving in the city, Aladeen  meets up with an American agent, who turns out to be his intended assassin (John C. Reilly). Aladeen is able to escape from his grasp, but not before his full beard is shaved off and he is forced to meander the streets of Manhattan virtually unrecognizable.

Eventually, Alerdeen winds up at a protest in front of the United Nations where he comes in contact with his eventual love interest, Zooey (Anna Faris, in cropped short hair and hairy armpits) an androgynous looking, liberal activist, who runs an organic grocery store in Brooklyn where she employs foreign dissidents.  Under the mistaken impression that Aladeen is a Wadiyan dissident,  Zooey offers him a job at her store, but that doesn't stop him from hooking up with his former nuclear weapons expert and top scientist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) in an attempt to regain his place as the Wadiyan leader.

This fish out of water set up allows Cohen to do his typical outrageous shtick. If you have seen Baron Cohen's prior films than you know what you are in for. As a character who is stuck in a culture that is far removed from his political, religious and sexist beliefs, Cohen uses that premise for an opportunity to shock audiences with his off the wall, offensive behavior and language.  The gags and hijinks keep coming in rapid order.  There are a couple of funny scenes. The best takes place aboard a helicopter ride above Manhattan that Aladeen takes with Nadel. Alerdeen freaks out a couple of middle aged American tourists sitting across from him when his foreign language conversation and gestures laced with a few words in English are misunderstood as those of a terrorist. And in a speech towards the end of the movie, he truly hits the mark delivering a biting, critical commentary on the American system.

Unfortunately, rather than being funny, most of the intended humor is vulgar to the point of disgusting and even obscene.  The brutal murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics is not something to ever joke about. As an observant Jew, no less, he should be ashamed of himself. Asking for a trash can so that he can throw away a newborn baby girl is horrific, regardless of whether its meant to be satirical.

Sasha Baron Cohen has proven to be a very talented comic actor but enough is enough, already. Being offensive has its limits and The Dictator only goes to show that it is time for him to move on and go in a new direction.  Baron Cohen should take on something that will leave audiences in awe rather than disgust.

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