Crude, stale and utterly dismal, you’re better off spending the money on almost anything else. (3.5/10)
Unless you live a truly charmed life, every so often you will encounter a movie so poorly made that it boggles the mind that ostensibly sentient film-makers actually expect audiences to pay to watch them. It isn’t that The Dictator doesn’t have its moments but those few moments tend to get buried under a landslide of crude jokes and stale toilet humor and its producers must surely be aware of this. They try to offset the crassness by providing political insight but there is nothing in the movie that an everyday adult with even the most rudimentary grasp of world affairs has not already heard. As was the case with Cohen’s previous efforts in Bruno and Borat, the humor is over the top and glaringly in-your-face but unlike its more successful predecessors, The Dictator fails to provide any kind of real social or political commentary. Yet, The Dictator does provide some laughs but one must question what hard times have befallen the cast for them to voluntarily reduce themselves to taking a role in such a disaster. This is the poorest cinematic fare I have had in recent memory; it made me thank the heavens for the small mercy of it being just 83 minutes long.
Film study majors and movie nerds alike enjoy debating when precisely an actor’s career begins taking a definite downward slant. I cannot answer that question with any certainty myself, but I know this – when an actor, with a ‘Sir’ in front of his name, is reduced to performing a scene that involves him kissing Cohen’s armpits, he is well past the beginning of the end. Sir Ben Kingsley, winner of numerous accolades including Oscars and Grammies, should never have touched this role with a stick the combined length of all his statuettes. He is an immense talent and there are scripts in Hollywood begging for a strong lead or at least a decent villain, and yet, here he is. The sheer deficiency of good judgment and common sense displayed by his decision is highly concerning – I would go so far as to say it might be a precursor of something much more sinister, say Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. As for the rest of the cast, clearly the only casting criterion was being sufficiently lacking in the self-respect department to even audition for a role. Our star, Sacha Baron Cohen, has delighted in our outrage before and on occasion allowed us to share in his delight, with the well-received, if simplistic Ali G In Da House and the better received and sharply satirical Borat. In The Dictator, Cohen tries desperately to channel some of the over-the-top offensiveness that made his previous characters larger than life. Unsurprisingly, he succeeds in being as offensive as imaginable, but fails in delivering that razor sharp insight that gave his previous successes any measure of depth. Without that keystone, the rest of movie is a string of predictable anti-Semitism, sexism, racism and fart jokes tied together by the sorriest excuse for a plot since Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight. His co-stars can hardly redeem him – Anna Farris is a incredibly annoying and self-righteous hipster (yes, I realized there is a certain redundancy there) whose sole purpose seems to be to play Cohen’s characters unlikely love interest. If the irritation was the intentionally induced, it would be fine – but the trouble is that the portrayal of the hipster is not a clever parody. It is a stale, heavy-handed attempt at mocking a subculture that the internet has already turned into a laughing stock. There is nothing funny or groundbreaking about mocking hipsters – in fact, nothing could be more ‘mainstream’. Mantzoukas’ performance as Nadal renders him intensely unlikable, despite him having significantly more common sense (and hence more in common with the audience) than any other character, that we find Cohen’s character all the more likable for it. Whether or not this was deliberate is up for debate, but either way Mantzoukas’ is so forgettable that it’s a wonder he does not need a reintroduction every time he reappears on screen.
At this point, I would try to bring in the ‘plot’ but there is no such concept in this movie. To call the plot simplistic would be to insult movies with coherent but basic plots. The main conflict of the plot itself is abject but amazingly enough, the plot manages to degenerate further. By the end of the film, they finally abandon all pretext and go on to confirm the audience’s steadily growing suspicion that the ‘plot’ was just a thinly-veiled excuse to attack different aspects of American culture and foreign policy. I would forgive the movie this oversight, since clearly the plot is not the movie’s primary concern, but the attacks themselves were so meek, blunt and essentially ineffectual that I felt a reasonable plot was the least we were due as members of the audience. Unfortunately, this is just not true and by the end of the movie we have men surviving bullet wounds to the head and unshaven pseudo-hipsters strolling into UN General Assembly meetings like it was a Pitchfork music club gathering. Despite the complete absence of redeeming qualities in the plot, I found myself even more disappointed by the ‘humor’. There are some moments when Cohen and his co-stars deliver the mercilessly penetrating critiques of America and its allies, but as mentioned above, these moments are far too few and even further in between. Despite being directed by the same man who brought us Borat, this film is an absolute train wreck. Ultimately, the audience will leave the cinema sorely disappointed that they actually spent money on this when there are some many bit torrent websites still active and thriving.
Sacha Baron Cohen – Admiral General Aladeen and his impostor Efawadh
Ben Kingsley – Tamir, Aladeen’s uncle
Jason Mantzoukas – Nadal
Anna Faris as Zoey
John C. Reilly as Clayton
Bobby Lee as Mr. Lao
Sayed Badreya as Omar
Adeel Akhtar as Maroush
And the late, great, Roger Ebert