Monday, May 28, 2012

Larry Charles: The Dictator

Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, The Dictator, Paramount Pictures, 2012.

Dissolving more comfortably into the infrastructure of studio comedies, great satirist Sacha Baron Cohen's newest character, Aladeen, is an imperialist Middle Eastern dictator who essentially gets lost in America and must find himself in more ways than one. It feels less risky somehow than the previous two collaborations with the talented Larry Charles, the near brilliant Borat and Bruno. Those two pictures defied pop culture standards and still became phenomenons. Comedies like those are a rare breed.

Here, fusing Chaplin's The Great Dictator with John Landis' Coming to America, Baron Cohen, Charles, and co-scripters Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, make acidic, dead-on parodies of America, essentially, and our collective xenophobia against, especially, Arabs. Baron Cohen skews everyone though; Middle-Easterners, men, women, hippies, hipsters; nobody is safe.

As the buffoonish but ultimately loveable (as with all of Cohen's bizarrely original characters, aliens in every sense of the word) Aladeen carouses through the East Coast landscape, he encounters a feminist grocer (a wacky turn by Anna Faris) and one of his deported former nuclear scientists (a funny Jason Mantzoukas) and they inadvertently aide him in trying to win back his dictatorship from a dastardly plot hatched by his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley in a fun change of pace).

In the third act, the satire begins to run thin, and ultimately we know where this is going. A lot more scenes fall flat than in previous Cohen films. And yet the crazy perseverance of Aladeen, and all of Cohen's unmissable characters, makes this worthy of our collective attention spans.


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