"In loving memory of Kim Jong-Il", states the opening card of British tightrope comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's latest film. Appropriately, the new alter-ego from the creator of Ali G, Borat and Brüno is "admiral general sergeant" Aladeen, a megalomaniac Middle-Eastern dictator modeled after Muammar Kadhafi and Saddam Hussein who may be about to develop atomic weapons. But despite the topical satire in the way Mr. Baron Cohen has accustomed us, The Dictator isn't one of his shock-mockumentaries like Borat and Brüno; rather, a classically-scripted comedy where the actor's boundary-pushing strategy of full character immersion is scaled back into a more conventional framework.

     At its heart a sweet, Capraesque comedy of a naïf martinet having his eyes opened by New York City and the love of a good woman (Anna Faris as a supremely politically-correct vegan activist), The Dictator embellishes the formula with Mr. Baron Cohen's borderline offensive satire. Here he takes aim at the military-industrial complex, American exceptionalism and political correction, leading into a big climactic speech reminding in more than one way of Charles Chaplin's Great Dictator. But, for Mr. Baron Cohen, being "unscripted" is part of the act - it's what gives each new persona of his the edge that sets it apart from most other comedians, and here that edge is removed to show an inspired, risk-taking comedian at a crossroads. Granted, after the lingering bad after-taste of the ill-received Brüno, the candid-camera approach was pretty much exhausted, and The Dictator is a good deal more satisfying.

     But while Ben Kingsley and Jason Mantzoukas prove apt sidekicks for the actor's out-there performance, Larry Charles directs with no particular flair beyond underlining the usual strengths of Mr. Baron Cohen's, and seldom has a big Hollywood budget been used to look so thoroughly as if it cost next to nothing. What's in the cards for Mr. Baron Cohen next is a good question: unscripted is unlikely to work again, scripted blunts the edge.

Sacha Baron Cohen; Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas; Ben Kingsley; Adeel Akhtar.
     Director, Larry Charles; screenplay, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer; cinematography, Lawrence Sher (colour, processing by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen); music, Erran Baron Cohen, Deborah Lurie; designer, Victor Kempster; costumes, Jeffrey Kurland, Jason Alper; editors, Greg Hayden, Eric Kossick; visual effects, Eric J. Robertson; producers, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mr. Berg, Mr. Mandel, Mr. Schaffer, Scott Rudin, Anthony Hines, Todd Schulman (Paramount Pictures, Four by Two Films and Berg Mandel Schaffer), USA, 2012, 83 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), May 11th 2012.


Popular Posts