Comedian and actor Sasha Baron Cohen became famous around 2004 with Da Ali G Show, an HBO mockumentary series with a fresh new style of satire. Ali G was one of Baron Cohen’s many idiot journalist characters who would host flunky panel discussions and conduct awkward press junket style interviews with political officials and other media heavyweights. It was beautiful – Newt Gingrich was forced to spell out his name letter by letter before his interview started, Sam Donaldson seemingly caught on to the gag and joked around a bit, and Buzz Aldrin was duped into awkwardly answering the question of moon people’s opinion of the earthling public.
Baron Cohen is also a scholar and frequently authors social commentary in his work. An alumni of the University of Cambridge, he has somehow been able to casually reveal racial bigotry in people he encounters while in-character. He is also an observant Jew and has fashioned some of his work to address public indifference toward antisemitism.
Because Baron Cohen’s most recent brainchild, the hugely anticipated and VERY clever exploitative documentary film, Borat, made such a terrific splash, I was REALLY excited for his new film, The Dictator. In this one, Baron Cohen basically plays a character similar Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. As Admiral General Hafez Aladeen, Baron Cohen portrays a fun-loving autocrat of some unpleasant fictional country in North Africa who lives like a king, hangs out with hot female bodyguards and casually commands members of his loyal entourage to execute people, or sometimes livestock, he encounters day-by-day. During a visit to the United States, Aladeen’s identity is compromised and he finds himself having to make his way through New York City with the aid of an uber-liberal hippie played by Anna Faris (Scary Movie, The House Bunny).
Almost immediately as The Dictator starts, you can detect a style of humor similar to that of an Adam Sandler or Wayans Bros comedy. Not exactly what I was hoping for. Baron Cohen doesn’t exactly shine as an actor in this one, especially when he performs the dreaded playing-more-than-one-character-and-eventually-talking-to-himself. The Dictator has some unimpressive gross-out humor, and despite a few references to his still-alive buddy, Osama Bin Laden, pretty lacking in clever international-affairs related jokes.
Here’s the thing about this economic recession we’re trudging through – Hollywood is still required to “put out.” That means, “hey guys, we need to write something and make it into a movie.” I’ve heard rumors that The Hangover Part II was released in theaters just a few short months after it finished shooting. So I sort of understand the circumstances of a lackluster movie like this. I think its a shame that Sasha Baron Cohen has to be one of the guys who isn’t able to produce something like the other popular comedies of the past couple of years, but I KNOW he isn’t done yet, and assuming I’m right about the impact that the economic recession is having on the entertainment industry, I’ll be eager to see what he’ll be planning next.
Final thought: the best parts of The Dictator are in the previews, but don’t worry, you’ll still probably laugh. Just don’t take my comments lightly, and perhaps wait for a DVD release.