The Dictator

May 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley
Directed by
: Larry Charles (“Borat”)
Written by
: Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”), Alec Berg (“EuroTrip”), David Mandel (“EuroTrip”), Jeff Schaffer (“Bruno”)

It was only a few years ago that actor Sacha Baron Cohen could take one of his eccentric, ignorant and goofy characters across middle America and hold up a mirror to the country’s uneasiness with foreigners and homosexuals, among other things. But then “Borat” was released and became an instant comedy classic, shooting the extremely talented actor responsible for the hilarious “Da Ali G Show” into superstardom. Though he was still able to fool people in the less successful follow-up “Bruno,” Cohen’s box office success combined with his increasingly recognizable face and lanky frame made his formula of pestering oblivious people under the guise of a documentary become less possible. With this in mind, Cohen makes his first foray into the world of scripted narratives to bring another larger than life character to the screen in “The Dictator.”

While in the U.S. fixing to speak to the U.N. about a potential military intervention, the racist and nuclear weapon- obsessed Republic of Wadiya dictator Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen) is kidnapped and replaced with a look-alike. The plan is orchestrated by Aladeens uncle and advisor, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) in an effort to democratize Wadiya and open up its oil supply. While staggering around New York City, Aladeen runs into a local vegan store operator named Zoey (Anna Faris) who gives him a job while he plots a way to stop the decoy from signing the document to change Wadiya.

As usual, Cohen immerses himself in a character complete with a crafted accent and exaggeratedly unethical cultural customs. Like 2009’s “Bruno,” this film doesn’t feature one of Cohen’s stronger characters, though without question, he commits to a performance more than most comedic actors. As the love interest, Faris plays the role of Zoey pretty straight, mostly reacting to the absurdness of Aladeen. It makes for an okay, if not slightly disappointing performance considering how strong her comedic chops can be. The strongest member of the supporting cast is Jason Mantzoukas who plays Aladeen’s right hand man Nadal. Perhaps best known for his work on TV’s “The League,” Mantzoukas is able improvise lines and infuse great comedic timing to deliver some of the films funnier moments. Other than the role played by Kingsley, the rest of the cast is essentially a revolving door of cameos which work to varying degrees. John C. Reilly’s intensely racist character stands out in particular, while the Megan Fox cameo seen in trailers and commercials is particularly stale.

While the film misses more than it hits, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have humorous moments. The problem with these scenes, however, is that every single joke in “The Dictator” is easy. It isn’t just the excessive usage of shock and gross-out humor for an easy laugh. It’s pretty much every joke in the film. From the opening credits dedication of the film “in loving memory of Kim Jong Il” to the wacky customs of Wadiya to the androgynous appearance of Zoey, every joke can be spotted from a mile away.

There’s no question that Cohen is one of the most talented character creators in the film industry today. But based on the quality of his last two character-driven films, perhaps it’s time to move past the zany foreigner conceit. The fact that there are enough body hair jokes to count on two hands should inform potential audiences the humor in “The Dictator” can often be eye-rollingly lazy. And even when a joke comes around that works, one is more likely to crack a smile than bust a gut.

Brüno

July 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Bañagale
Directed by: Larry Charles (“Borat”)
Written by: Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”), Anthony Hines (“Borat”), Dan Mazer (“Borat”), and Jeff Schaffer (“EuroTrip”)
 
There’s no denying the devotion Sacha Baron Cohen exhibits when he transforms into one of the satirical characters he made famous in the U.K. and then later on HBO. Whether you are a fan of his streetwise poser Ali G, his socially-awkward Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev, or his homosexual Austrian character Brüno, Cohen is doing the most nervy comedy routines in recent film history.
 
In “Brüno,” Cohen’s follow-up to his hilariously over-the-top 2006 mockumentary “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” the British comedian takes his sometimes shocking antics to places you have to see to believe. During the process, he creates extremely uncomfortable scenarios that will leave you squeamish if they’re not making you keel over in laughter some of the time.

In case you’re not familiar with Brüno, he is a flamboyant gay model/host of an Austrian TV show called “Funkyzeit.” Brüno’s career tailspins when there is a mishap on the fashion runway, which leads to his firing. Although he is distraught, Brüno sees his dismissal from the show as an opportunity to do something else. Thus, he packs his bags with designer clothes and moves to Los Angeles with his assistant’s assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) to become Hollywood’s next big star.

Like in “Borat,” no one within a few hundred feet of Baron Cohen is safe in “Brüno.” It’s really difficult, however, to believe some of the places the actor is able to infiltrate as a fictitious fashionista. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that most people in foreign countries (other than Kazakhstan) probably don’t know who he is, but why didn’t anyone in Paula Abdul’s entourage do a little research to find out who exactly she was sitting down with for an interview? And why does a scene where Brüno trains in the military feel like a skit instead of a realistic situation?

Still, with every scene that could possibly be simulated or that just isn’t funny (a joke about hummus and Hamas is ridiculous as is an African-American baby joke that fizzles out), there’s one that feels entirely too real. In one such scene, Baron Cohen fakes a technical difficulty during an interview with U.S. Congressman Ron Paul so he can get him to come into a bedroom at a hotel to wait until the lighting problem is fixed. During the scene, Brüno attempts to seduce Paul with wine, music and a strip tease before the Texas Republican storms out of the room wondering what the hell is going on.

In “Brüno,” the jaw-dropping moments like this far outweighed the actual humor the movie delivers. Where “Borat” was a quasi-sociological experiment with a bigger agenda, “Brüno” feel more like a reason to let Baron Cohen see how far he can push the rating system. “Bruno” is rated R. Without some of the censorship black boxes the Motion Picture Association of America probably demanded for Universal Pictures to use, the film could have easily received an even more adult rating (we’re not talking about NC-17 either).

Whether you care for full frontal male nudity or not, “Brüno” definitely has its moments. It’s the portions of the film that feel less stagey that illustrate the true brilliance and sickness of Baron Cohen. Still, “Brüno” feels more like something Steve-O from “Jackass” could have done if he had more talent than just stapling things to his scrotum. For his skill to humiliate and horrify, Baron Cohen deserves credit. But there’s a better movie in him after he retires his entire fleet of familiar roles.