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The Dictator—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
May 16, 2012 9:59 PM
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Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2012 Paramount Pictures.

As someone who was completely disarmed by Borat, then disappointed by Bruno, I hoped Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest comedy would hit that sweet spot again, especially since he is working with his longtime collaborators, director Larry Charles and writers Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer. I certainly couldn’t have foreseen a film as sloppy and mediocre as this.

You have to give Baron Cohen credit, not only for audaciousness (as he has proved with his worldwide promotional stunts for The Dictator) but for his complete commitment to every character he portrays. The problem with his latest, Admiral General Aladeen of Wadiya, is that he’s poorly conceived. If he were strictly a satirical figure, making fun of Kim Jong-Il and his ilk, that would be one thing, but he attempts to humanize the would-be monster, in fits and starts. The Admiral General, as he’s known, is duped by his chief advisor (Ben Kingsley) into coming to New York, ostensibly to sign a peace treaty at the United Nations. Instead, he is replaced by a lookalike and left to fend for himself in the Big Apple. This leads to a lumpy love story with a politically active (and correct) woman played by Anna Faris, a subplot that is both arbitrary and unconvincing.

Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2012 Paramount Pictures.

The most curious thing about this film is the expression of Baron Cohen’s sense of humor, which was evident in his earliest incarnation as Ali G on television: he embraces both stinging satire and the lowest form of Borscht Belt comedy, and has no problem leapfrogging from one extreme to the other in the blink of an eye. There are scenes in The Dictator where jokes (some good, some awful, many of them crass) come pouring out of his mouth at a rapid-fire pace that suggests nothing so much as desperation. Woody Allen was guilty of this in his earliest films but he learned, and grew as a comedy filmmaker, with each passing year.

I could forgive almost anything of a movie that makes me laugh, but this one is so scattershot—and the good jokes are so overwhelmed by the duds—that the end result can only be called a misfire. Too bad.

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  • Peter-John Johnson | June 22, 2012 6:50 AMReply

    Having seen Sascha Baron Cohen in a supporting role in "Hugo" where his performance is excellent begs a dilemma of sorts. Clearly with a well-written script, a director like Scorsese who clearly is able to rein in and therefore use Cohen's extravagance to advantage, the comedian shines. His own work,however is hardly edifying cinema. Film buffs have seen this kind of thing before vis a vis the downward path of Harold LLoyd after he took creative control. The last Bob Hope comedies for e.g

  • Brian | May 18, 2012 10:17 PMReply

    Borat was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay not Original Screenplay as you said on Maltin On Movies.

  • Peter-John Johnson | May 17, 2012 7:26 AMReply

    When I first heard of this project I was dismayed that Cohen was permitted to invade Charles Chaplin territory. I had fears the result would be unduly crude, vulgar without the apprehension of real wit that was The Great Dictator. Regrettably my fears have borne their fruit. The film seems to be an unwieldy mash-up of The Great Dictator and A King in New York with disconnected screwball elements in this reading.

  • Waffles | May 17, 2012 7:22 AMReply

    It is very funny. It worked for me leonard.

  • Jeffrey | May 16, 2012 10:27 PMReply

    I also had high hopes for this film. Brutal.

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