May 20, 2012

REVIEW: The Dictator (dir. Charles)

In Borat, Sasha Baron Cohen impersonated a fictional Kazahkstani journalist, roaming the streets of New York, whose Stone-Age views about women and virulent anti-semitism are received by his smiling American hosts with a rictus of dumb-foundment and horror. The joke depended for its effectiveness on the patronizing attitudes lurking within the warmth his American hosts extended to their foreign guest, trapping them in ever tighter circles of squirming unease. We didn't just laugh because Borat was backward — we laughed because anyone could believe someone so backward could exist. The film satirized credulity.  In The Dictator, by way of contrast, Sasha Baron Cohen plays a fictitious Middle-Eastern dictator roaming the streets of New York, whose Stone-Age views about women and virulent anti-semitism are received by his smiling American hosts with a rictus of dumb-foundment and horror because they are paid to do so, being actors in a movie. I don't think Cohen has realized just what a seismic shift in writing style was being asked of him here.  The shift from pseudo-documentary to fictional comedy, if done properly,  would have sent him back to the drawing board to relearn his craft, recalibrating his outrage-levels, offense-loads and torque-percentages to see what fictional situations could bear. He appears not to have done any of this this. He's simply written what once he improvised, acted what once he enacted, and the results, with a few exceptions — a great gag about General Aladeen learning to masturbate  the 9/11 helicopter skit you've already seen in the trailer — simple roll out of end of the canon, and drop to the ground with a thumpFew of the gags connect with anything because they're not aimed at anything. Cohen isn't satirizing credulity because credulity is something actors are paid to suspend: Ana Farris must make her way through her scenes with Aladeen affecting not to notice his offensiveness, which seems a little less impressive, once shorn of the daring Cohen displayed in Borat, most of whose scenes risked  a punch in the hooter. We admired his balls, and that admiration was a good enough substitute for our sympathy. But sympathy in fiction must be earnt, and requires a very different sort of daring. He seems to have fast-forwarded right to the late part of Peter Sellers career where he couldn't get through a sketch without corpsing, and everyone sniggered along, too frightened not to join in. C+

5 comments:

  1. Nice review of the movie.

    Check out my review .

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Some of us (okay, I) would argue that once you get the joke in Borat it just becomes unpleasant to watch real people get their buttons pushed and then pounded over and over, balls or no balls. The jokes in The Dictator aren't all cherce but it has a solid farcical premise and the inspired idea that a lefty feminist and a fascist dictator can find common cause against the cynical faux-democracy favoring the few that the U.S. spends taxpayer dollars to promote so avidly. I can't argue that the jokes go thump, only say that I laughed at a lot of them.

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