17 May 2012


You can just about measure the distance between Charlie Chaplin's satirical classic, The Great Dictator, and Sacha Baron Cohen's latest character piece, The Dictator with a really massive measuring thingy. If I'd said that the difference between the two films was "Great", it'd be a little too on-the-nose, and really, as bloody-nosed as the latter film leaves feminists, right-wingers and people who don't like rape, I want to avoid doing the same.

So, the latest character from the creator of Ali G, Borat and Brüno is Admiral General Aladeen, an insane, man-child despot who rules over the oppressed North African country of Wadiya. An advance in the country's nuclear programme brings about two shocking developments- a failed assassination attempt, and a United Nations ultimatum demanding that Aladeen appears before the world to explain himself. Forces conspire to liberate Wadiya from Aladeen's lovingly tyrannical rule, and when he's stranded in New York, he has to return to oppress his people once more.

Baron Cohen always undertakes press tours for his movies in character, an approach which has gotten The Dictator a lot of publicity. At the same time, this film isn't a mockumentary, like the films that made him popular, and as much as I admire the fact that he's a one-man promotional machine whenever one of these films comes around, there are a couple of little things that have been obscured, which I might have liked to hear about from the man himself. For instance, I haven't seen it mentioned very often, but the film is partially based on a novel written by Saddam Hussein, which would suggest more of a satire than the film actually turns out to be.

Baron Cohen's comedy is, by now, quite familiar. He has that whole "rule of three" approach to his gag-writing, often manifesting itself as lists of three, which escalate in ridiculousness, or hilarity. Other times, it means doing one gag, and repeating it two more times in slightly different ways, which starts to wear a little thin at certain points of this movie. Then again, a gag involving Megan Fox's cameo falls flat, but the punchline to that scene, featuring Polaroids for Aladeen's other conquests, reduced me to incredulous hooting. Some of the best gags in the film are those that beat you into submission, but most of them are short, sharp shocks of humour. In most cases, the escalation is vulgar for vulgar's sake.

I won't spoil some of my favourite gags, including the aftermath of Aladeen's visit to a funeral parlour in Harlem, because one of the more enjoyable things about this zippy comedy is that most of the over-exposed gags from the trailer aren't actually in the movie. That suggests something of the Judd Apatow approach, of shooting everything and worrying about structure and pacing later, but the film clocks in at a brisk 83 minutes. It's hardly the soul of wit, but it definitely doesn't outstay its welcome.

The comedy performances are pretty enjoyable, which supports any audience members who might get a little sick of Aladeen, the more we're exposed to him. Anna Faris plays Zoey, a character who is the butt of various jokes about feminism, ranging from affectionate (her self-conscious PC co-op has a separate bathroom for lesbians) to mean-spirited (repeated gags about her choice not to shave her armpits), but Faris is reliably likeable and fun to watch. Crucially, Jason Mantzoukas admirably fills the role of Baron Cohen's sidekick, a staple of these movies, as a nuclear scientist who is eternally, hilariously frustrated with his supreme leader's idiocy.

Despite the connection through the genre and the title, and the fact that The Great Dictator is one of my favourite movies, I didn't even think of Chaplin's film until towards the end of the film, when Aladeen gives an impassioned speech about how his country and America's idea of democracy are not so different. The dialogue is nowhere near as good as the barber's glorious final speech, obviously, but the manner of speechifying was quite reminiscent. It reminded me that Baron Cohen is essentially well meaning in portraying idiots and monsters and nasty people, because nothing else in the film would testify to that.

The Dictator isn't structured around the guerilla mockumentary stylings of Borat and Brüno, and although the running time goes quickly, the structure is quite slack, and it betrays a weakness for scripted material that occasionally recalls the early days of Ali G Indahouse. Nevertheless, it's a better film than Brüno, with enough genuine laugh-out-loud moments to keep you going. It might have been a more focused satire, and perhaps not treated feminism with as much disdain as fascism, but the cringe-worthy result still bears watching.

The Dictator is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Dictator, why not share your comments below? Also, it really sucks to be Megan Fox right now, doesn't it? As much as I've slagged her off over time, I thought she might at least be above playing herself for prostitution jokes.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Arun said...

Nice review of the movie.

Check out my review .