[Screen It]


(2012) (Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley) (R)

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Comedy: A totalitarian dictator is replaced with a doppelganger who threatens to sign an agreement that will bring democracy to his beloved oppressed country.
Admiral General Aladeen (SACHA BARON COHEN) is the tyrannical leader of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. He loves being dictator. It means he can rig his country's Olympics and Golden Globes so that he is always the winner. His second-in-command, Tamir (BEN KINGSLEY), though, secretly despises him and seeks to have him kidnapped and murdered on a visit to New York City and replaced with a body double (also COHEN). His goal is to seize control of the country so he can sell its valuable oil contracts to the highest bidder.

Tamir allies with a bigoted American security operative (JOHN C. REILLY), who looks to torture Aladeen first before killing him. The plan backfires and Aladeen escapes. Shorn of his beard, though, no one recognizes him as the world's last great dictator. He is eventually taken in by Zoey (ANNA FARIS), a short-haired ultra-liberal who owns a health-foods store and is always organizing protests. She gives him a job and even bails him out of jail when he is mistaken for a terrorist.

Aladeen wants to take back control of his country before Tamir turns it into a democracy. He enlists the aid of Nadal (JASON MANTZOUKAS), the former head of Wadiya's weapons program who he once tried to have executed. At the same time, he finds himself falling for Zoey and questioning what kind of a leader he really wants to be.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Watching Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, and Co. in "The Dictator" reminded me of a stand-up routine Chris Rock once did in which he talked about "interracial posses." We are a diverse people. It's one of the awesome things about America, about the world. More and more, Rock said, black folks are hanging out with white folks and thinking nothing of it...er, except when it comes to certain music. Everyone's getting along just fine, and suddenly a Dr. Dre song comes on with all of its repeated references to the "N" word. You can't sing or rap that together. We're aren't "there" yet.

So, when a movie like "The Dictator" comes along with all of its jokes at the expense of the different races, sexes, religions, and so forth...it's hard to sit with a diverse crowd in a movie theater and know what's "OK" to laugh at. Cohen would argue that it's "OK" to laugh at everything and everyone. He is perhaps entertainment's most equal opportunity offender at the moment.

And, wow, does he offend in this movie! Unlike "Borat" and "Bruno," this latest effort is a largely scripted affair. While you would think going in that this would restrain Cohen and his brand of humor, it actually keeps him and the film focused. That's a good thing. All concerned know exactly where to start with this story, they know where they are going with the humor, and they know exactly where they want to end up.

Cohen stars as Admiral General Aladeen, the tyrannical leader of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. Aladeen loves keeping his masses down, ordering executions, and chronicling his sexual conquests. He prides himself on being the world's last great dictator. On a trip to New York to address the United Nations, though, his loyal second-in-command, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) plots to have him kidnapped and killed by a bigoted American operative (John C. Reilly). Aladeen escapes (but not before Reilly cuts off his trademark beard) and learns that he has been replaced by a body double who has announced that Wadiya is to become a democracy. In reality, Tamir wants to seize power to sell his country's valuable oil rights.

From there, the film becomes your classic "fish-out-of-water" story. At this point, Cohen deploys his secret weapon in Anna Faris, an actress who has shown a real gift for nutty comedy in the "Scary Movie" sequels and such other flicks as "House Bunny." She goes toe to toe with Cohen as an ultra-liberal feminist who owns a health-food store in New York and routinely organizes socially minded protests. Her Zoey is Aladeen's polar opposite. So, of course, there is going to be an attraction, which leads to Aladeen questioning his great love for absolute rule and debauchery.

And that's the film essentially. The story is simple, and the running time is under 90 minutes. But the framework allows Cohen to work in some truly outrageous bits. At one, he and his weapons expert from his homeland take an aerial helicopter tour of Manhattan in an effort to fit in as tourists while they plot Aladeen's return to power. They sit with two random tourists and speak to each other in their native tongue, casually referring to such things as fireworks, various New York landmarks, Osama Bin Laden, and Aladeen's new Porsche 911. Throughout the conversation, all the two tourists can decipher are the words "Bin Laden," "Empire State Building," "Yankee Stadium," "boom," "911," and "911 2012." They become very frightened, the lady tourist starts screaming, and Aladeen and Nadal are eventually arrested.

It's all played for laughs. And more than a decade removed from the tragic events of September 11, some might be ready to laugh. But I wouldn't want to watch that scene in a movie theater in Lower Manhattan. I wouldn't want to be sitting close to someone who lost a loved one on that day. At my recent preview screening, I sat next to a homosexual movie critic. Two seats down from me was a woman reviewer. Behind me was an African-American couple on a date. There were jokes that were clearly offensive to each of them that my warped sense of humor found...uh, chuckle-worthy. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I had to cover my mouth a bit and look around to gauge what the reactions were first.

Bottom line. If you are not easily offended and have been a fan of Cohen's extreme humor in the past, you're going to really enjoy this movie. I suspect that a significant of people who are subscribers to a content site such as Screen It, though, will not. To each his/her own. The film works on its own terms. While crude, there is an intelligence on display here and a method to the madness. I rate it a solid 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed May 10, 2012 / Posted May 16, 2012

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