Monday, October 29, 2012

The Dictator (Larry Charles)

Admiral General Aladeen.

After 3 years, Sacha Baron Cohen is back yet again with his comic shenanigans, but this time, it is on a bigger political scale. "The Dictator", a film that marks Cohen's third collaboration with director Larry Charles, is a gross-out satire of, obviously, everything dictatorial and politically unethical. But unlike "Borat" and "Bruno", "The Dictator" is visually more polished (mainly because of its bigger budget) and a tad more ambitious in scope. 
But then again, compared to the two earlier films, "The Dictator" is also quite forgettable. Sure, the trademark Sacha Baron Cohen comedy is still there, but the ingenuity and effortless wit seem amiss this time around. The politically incorrect jokes are spot-on yet there's something off in their deliveries. As one racial joke bombards the screen after another, I sure have let out some laughs, but they are ones that are hollow and abrupt. 
Although I wouldn't go to great lengths by describing the Cohen-Charles combo as a 'train finally running out of steam', I think that there's just a lack of general inspiration and twist in how the film was realized. It has sure made me laugh numerous times, but the jokes (especially the racial ones) are often generic and sometimes just plain bland. As far as I'm concerned, this is their weakest film yet in terms of comedy, but as a potent political satire, "The Dictator" is a bit of a success. The Cohen-Charles team seems to be humorously degenerating yet satirically improving with every film. Perhaps that's quite a consolation. 
With majority of current world news circling around controversial dictators from parts unknown and the quasi-humorous manias they so nonchalantly flaunt, it is inevitable for a comic provocateur like Sacha Baron Cohen to take on such a persona. Sporting an overly thick beard, a mock Middle Eastern accent and a complete lack of common human decency, he has transformed into Admiral General Aladeen: a monster of a dictator (of the fictional Republic of Wadiya) who orders murders at will and has a penchant for nuclear supremacy. By combining Borat's political tactlessness and social ineptitude with Bruno's vulgarity and sexual promiscuity, Sacha Baron Cohen was able to form the foundations of his Aladeen character, with some additional touches of 'control freak' wickedness. 
While this may not be Sacha Baron Cohen's best character (that would still go to Borat), his turn as Aladeen is still quite memorable because of the way he has displayed the humorous extent of how a man raised in an isolated manger of violent political power deals with the reality outside his own. The result may not have been the freshest in terms of execution, but nonetheless, there were flashes of comic brilliance all throughout the film that were relatively able to carry "The Dictator's" satirical weight. 
Compared to "Borat" and "Bruno", "The Dictator" is the closest that both Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles can get to a narrative. But the way I see it, perhaps the film's adherence to a standardized plot is quite a disadvantage because Aladeen was utilized not as a freewheeling character much like Borat Sagidyev is but as a parody of a character who merely operates within the confines of a predictable narrative (notice how the film, as it progresses, slowly takes on a tone akin to a rom-com?). Although Aladeen as a character was in no way wasted, I think it's fair to say that his utmost potential as a riotously funny character was mostly left untouched. 
On the other hand, I have to give the rest of the cast lots of credits, especially Anna Faris and Jason Mantzoukas (with bits of Ben Kingsley) in how they have complemented Sacha Baron Cohen's often times overbearing presence. 
As a comedy film, "The Dictator" is too heavily flawed to be ranked shoulder-to-shoulder with the very masterful "Borat" (still Sacha Baron Cohen's best film). But as a no-holds-barred political satire, the film is very, very effective. I especially loved the scene where Aladeen and his nuclear scientist, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), are talking about innocuous things in their native language aboard a tourist helicopter when, suddenly, two tourists riding along with them mistake their conversation as an insidious plan to go 9/11 on the Empire State Building's ass. It is moments like this that makes "The Dictator" more special than it has any right to be. Oh, and also maybe Edward Norton's cameo.


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