Movie Review: The Dictator
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
The targets in this case are the delusional narcissism of despotic rulers and the hypocrisy of a free America that has more in common with oppressed countries than many would care to recognize. The title card, which says the film was presented "In Loving Memory of Kim Jong Il," immediately sets the tone for the spoof about sociopathic General Aladeen, the bloodthirsty, nuclear-power hungry despot who rules the fictional northern Africa country of Wadiya.
Aladeen, whose total understanding of armaments comes from TV cartoons, has taken to throwing fits. All of his friends have nuclear weapons, even Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Aladeen says looks like an extra on "Miami Vice."
Though the man who summarily executes citizens over the smallest of perceived slights insists (while laughing) that his country's uranium-enrichment program is based on powering clean energy, those in the West are skeptical. The United Nations demands the moronic, massively bearded leader, in power since age 7, travel to New York City to defend his country's nuclear intentions.
After arriving in the United States, Aladeen's resentful uncle, Tamir (Ben Kingsley, relishing his campy evil), sets a plan in motion to assassinate the Wadiyan leader and take control of the country and its rich oil reserves. Stripped of his beard and entourage of yes-men and gold Hummers, Aladeen wanders the city before being taken under the wing of Zoey, a big-hearted feminist activist played by a de- sexified Anna Faris.
Despite his relentless and crass hectoring of the girl he continually calls a boy, Aladeen slowly finds himself succumbing to Zoey's passion. His brief exile finds the dictator reunited with one of his former nuclear scientists (hilarious Upright Citizens Brigade veteran Jason Mantzoukas), and the two join forces to reinstate Aladeen to power. Along the way, the high-status doofus scares an American couple who think he is a terrorist and offends almost every race imaginable, yet somehow he stumbles to the precipice of a greater understanding of humanity.
Although cultural insensitivity, homophobia and racism are obviously offensive, Cohen and company's satire avoids that sin. The reason? The dictator is clearly the idiot. Bigotry isn't funny; someone lacking any self-awareness is.
Cohen's deadpan brilliance, even while uttering the most staggeringly stupid of lines, carries the movie, his proud obliviousness and broken English a winning combination in the fish-out-of-water story. Director Larry Charles and Cohen received writing help from a trio of "Seinfeld" veterans, and although the script has plenty of laughs, the lack of improvisation restrains Cohen at times.
Brief cameos from Megan Fox, Edward Norton, Garry Shandling and others provide unsuspecting comedic punch, and "Mad TV's" Bobby Lee shines as a sex- obsessed Chinese diplomat.
"Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" veteran Charles, who directed Cohen's "Borat" and "Bruno," tells the comedic tale in a straight-ahead fashion, letting Cohen be the focal point of his camera and storytelling. And, as with "Bruno" and "Borat," there is an overabundance of gross-out humor centered on genitalia and their various functions. Not everything can be clever.
Though "The Dictator" relies on a more traditional narrative style than Cohen's previous two films, editing keeps the 83-minute movie running at a swift clip. Unlike many of the failed "Saturday Night Live"-derived movies, Cohen and Charles don't fall prey to limp storylines that are kept on life support for far too long.
The style of storytelling is not the only difference between Cohen's latest and his two previous films. With "Borat" and "Bruno," we were laughing at Cohen's comedic foils, often unsuspecting simpletons and rednecks. With "The Dictator" we laugh at the lunacy of monomania and the increasing anachronism that is a dictatorship in an era when democracy is beginning to find roots across the globe.
Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. Theaters: Alamo Lake Creek, Alamo South, Alamo Slaughter, Barton Creek.