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Review Round-Up: 'The Dictator' with Sacha Baron Cohen

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 11, 2012 at 10:41AM

Sacha Baron Cohen's new comedy "The Dictator" is getting strong initial reviews in England, where it opens first. Hence the floodgates opened on stateside reviews, which are 85% on Rotten Tomatoes so far--that's a whole lot better than "Bruno"'s 67% Tomatometer score. The movie is not tracking great, party because "Bruno" burnt some audiences last time around; strong-word-of-mouth should correct that.
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The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen's new comedy "The Dictator" is getting strong initial reviews in England, where it opens first. Hence the floodgates opened on stateside reviews, which are 85% on Rotten Tomatoes so far--that's a whole lot better than "Bruno"'s 67% Tomatometer score. The movie is not tracking great, party because "Bruno" burnt some audiences last time around; strong-word-of-mouth should correct that.

I saw the movie at CinemaCon, where it played well to the Las Vegas crowd. Safe to say it's a much more hilarious and less uncomfortable politically incorrect comedy than "Bruno," returning Cohen to his transgressive-but-sweet comfort zone. Cohen reminds me of Peter Sellers in "The Mouse that Roared" or Groucho Marx in "Duck Soup." He's a deluded mideast absolute ruler/terrorist --Admiral General Aladeen--with chaos in his wake whose consciousness is raised when he hits the skids in the States.

Here's a sampling of early reviews.

Peter Bradsaw, The Guardian
A firework display of bad taste... It is less edgy than Baron Cohen's previous two films, featuring big, conventionally contrived gags and a colossal central turn from the man himself. Baron Cohen's Dictator is set to make Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau a model of subtlety and sensitivity.

Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist
At a first glance, Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" almost seems too easy. Another accent, another elaborate costume, more manscaping and this time with the softball target of despotic leaders -- it almost seemed as if the comic actor was pouring an ocean of fish into a tiny thimble and then pointing a comedy bazooka at it. And for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, "The Dictator" is kind of that obvious, and as a result, a bit uneven. But once the movie really finds its groove, Cohen's latest character creation easily stands up with his best work. Frequently laugh out loud funny, button pushing, and the rare comedy that actually gets more enjoyable as it goes on, "The Dictator" delivers the goods. All hail Admiral General Aladeen!

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
Although "The Dictator" arrives at a happy ending, after a fashion, it's more nuanced and intellectually satisfying than one expects and is preceded by a pointed political speech that will rile up pro- and anti-American establishment sentiment for different reasons.

Peter Debruge, Variety
Typically, political correctness couldn't be farther from the filmmakers' mind, and yet, what the pic most sorely lacks is the sort of humanist appeal Chaplin delivered at the close of "The Great Dictator." Baron Cohen may be ballsy, but he doesn't have the nerve to make that kind of statement. That said, his climactic speech on the lessons democracy could learn from despotism all but forgives the clumsy plotting that comes before.

Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
"The Dictator" is a comedian’s film, and almost every line in the script is either a punchline or a set-up. Not all of them are particularly amusing, but most are invigoratingly offensive in one way or another, and there are a handful of moments that deserve to endure.

Ben Mortimer, HeyUGuys
There’s a moment very near the end of "The Dictator: where it gets political. The point it makes is obvious, and laboured, but also well put and funny – It’s the film’s best moment, and a brief glimmer of the wit that made Sacha Baron Cohen’s career. Unfortunately it’s the only glimmer… The film might be funny, and it might have a few clever moments, but it’s a huge waste of an opportunity.

Jason Gorber, Twitch Film
Back to the here-and-now, "The Dictator" feels like a missed opportunity... and yet it still felt like it overstayed its welcome. It's not the disaster that the trailers might lead you to believe, but nor is it the new masterpiece I was, perhaps irrationally, hoping for. Be assured you haven't seen every funny moment ruined by the promotional advertisements, but go in with relatively low expectations and you still might have a fun time traveling to the deserts of Wadiya to see The Dictator do his thing.

This article is related to: Reviews, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Megan Fox


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.