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'The Dictator' hits every offensive but hilarious note

Published: Friday, May 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 18:05

The Dictator

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley
Directed By Larry Charles
Rated R
Opens Friday

Grade: B-

It’s no surprise that movies can find success is vulgar, offensive humor. In fact, Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous exploits in this subgenre prove that audiences do love a good poop joke. With “The Dictator,” the vile, gross-out humor comes second to genuine political parody centered around jokes that, until now, have been too taboo for even Cohen himself.

In the movie, Cohen plays Admiral General Alladeen, the ruler of the fictional North African country Waadeya. Alladeen comically orders the execution of dissenters, initiates a rather pathetic nuclear program and uses his considerable oil wealth to sleep with well-known celebrities.

When Alladeen is ordered to report to the UN Security Council, the Waadeyan dictator travels to New York City, dodges assassinations and is eventually usurped by the rightful heir to the throne, Tamir, played by Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley. From there, Alladeen hooks up with left-wing hippie Zooey, played by Anna Faris, eventually learning the value of democracy and non-racist beliefs.

Everything within that description seems like a difficult, moving drama playing on the horrible effects of facism and racism. But no, “The Dictator” is very much a funny, offensive stab at everything from Muammar Gaddafi to incessant panic about 9/11. True to movies of this type, enjoyment comes from a little bit of open-mindedness and a willingness to laugh at those topics. But it is amazing to see how Cohen and director Larry Charles take the 9/11 angle and play it in a way that isn’t trying to make people angry or earn attention solely on controversy but instead use that topic for basic situational comedy. “The Dictator” benefits from its directing and writing staff, all of whom have worked in that “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” style where the comedy is born of misunderstanding between all the parties involved.

In fact, the movie benefits from the more traditional setup as an actual fictional film, instead of the pseudo-documentary style seen with Cohen’s previous films like “Borat” and “Brüno.” There is an arc, conflict, characters and a storyline, making those the focus of the movie instead of the camera.

However, not everything works. There were instances where the audience not only didn’t find sequences funny, but the setup/punchline structure fell through. As an example, the Judd Apatow comedies, i.e. “Knocked Up” and “Funny People,” tend to run long because of the pauses in the humor. A funny line is delivered, the audience laughs and when they are done, another joke comes up. The rapid fire style seen in “The Dictator” doesn’t afford that luxury, and audiences can simply miss the punchlines because everyone is still laughing from the previous joke. “The Dictator” does have the added bonus, though, of a brisk 83-minute runtime, meaning the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The real crux of the movie falls on its political undertones. Regardless of the audience’s political affiliation, “The Dictator” takes a scathing look at corruption, government excess and basic greed. In truth, the setup seems to indicate an end game where the movie can make a real statement on those themes. The best movies of this type do manage to throw a little message at the audience in the midst of the male genitalia and fart jokes. But unlike, say, the “South Park” movie, “The Dictator” seems happy to simply mention those ideas and then go back to the jokes.

Funny is funny regardless, and “The Dictator” will delivers on that front.

 

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