Saturday, September 15, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Dictator (2012) **½

R, 83 min.
Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas, Chris Parnell, Bobby Lee, Megan Fox, Kevin Corrigan

What struck me the most about Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film “The Dictator” is that it isn’t really all that shocking. Yes, he makes horrible jokes at the expense of different religious cultures, mostly Islam and Jewish. But he never really seems to take it as far over the top as he did in his previous films “Borat” and “Bruno”. It never gets as raunchy as those films did, and in turn it never gets quite as funny.

It is funny, but I only found myself chuckling rather than cackling. Cohen plays a Middle Eastern dictator who hates America but through circumstances finds himself stuck in America treated as a normal citizen when one of his staff conspires to replace him with a doppelganger during a UN visit. This leads to scenes where the dictator tries to treat a group of naturalists in the same manner he did his citizenry. They generally look upon his behavior as an uncomfortable joke.

I think perhaps that adding a plot is what has really taken the power away from Cohen’s comedy in this picture. The previous two films were made as mocumentaries where Cohen’s character would corner unsuspecting subjects into apparently real and uncomfortable situations where they would reveal their true colors. I believe more of these elements were staged than the filmmakers wanted the audience to believe, but it made for some original and unexpected comedy.

With “The Dictator”, Cohen ventures more into Adam Sandler type of territory than anything as original as he had done before. It isn’t bad comedy. It just isn’t as exciting as what put Cohen on the comedy map.

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