In 2006, Sacha Baron Cohen launched to stardom playing his signature character, Borat. The movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” was rude, crude, offensive, obnoxious, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic… and funny as Hell.
This weekend he offered up “The Dictator,” a comedy that is also rude, crude, offensive, obnoxious, racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-semitic.
Only this time? Funny, not so much.
It didn’t take me much time at all to put my finger on why I love “Borat” (and I do), but I was underwhelmed by “The Dictator”. Above and beyond the fact that they’re different movies entirely, “Borat” had a gonzo comedy element to it. Baron Cohen was punking people as he went. Making things up on the fly. I’m certain that there was a considerable amount of planning, writing, framing, staging, etc… and I’m not trying to discount that. But the fact that Cohen was in character continuously regardless of the situation, and the fact that he was so easily able to expose the faults and foibles of Americans so easily… it was simply amazing. To me, it was a work of comedic genius. Part movie, part performance art.
In a scripted situation, it’s simply not as effective. Because make no mistake, in spite of all the differences between the two, the vein of humor Baron Cohen is attempting to mine is the same. People’s willingness to laugh at something shockingly offensive.
Like Borat, “The Dictator” is a character driven comedy. Certainly there are jokes, situation gags, etc… but the primary gag is the lead character himself. Admiral General Aladeen is a bearded buffoon, the Dictator of the African nation of Wadiya, and an oppresive tyrant. He lives a luxuriant lifestyle and has anyone who questions him executed. He spends his time hiring famous people to prostitute for him (one of the funniest moments of the movie), playing outrageously offensive customized video games (one of the most insensitive) and surrounding himself with gold plated everything.
After the UN demands an appearance, he travels to New York City, prepared to deliver a tirade. The night before, however, he is betrayed by his own people, and abducted. He manages to escape, but has been shorn of his beard and stripped of his clothes. Now, no one will recognize him and he is unable to get to the United Nations. Worse still, he has to watch as an imposter promises to turn his country into a democracy. Luckily for him, he runs across Anna Faris (the owner of a local bodega) who is willing to help him and give him a job. Of course, she also happens to be the most politically correct, liberally minded, environmentally conscious feminist imaginable in order to provide a foil for Aladeen’s barbaric attitudes.
It’s not exactly subtle, but nothing in this movie was intended to be. In fact, if anything, it’s intended to be “in your face”. The movie opens with an “In Loving Memory of Kim Jong Il” and includes such things as a custom video game turning the Munich Olympics into a first person shooter. In light of the current geo-political state, and the fact that people have died and are dying in the ongoing “Arab Spring”, I just didnt feel like laughing at a lot of what he was doing. So there were a few moments when I was actually offended, but I also just wasn’t amused enough. I didnt find Aldaeen to be humorous, and the situations he got into were painfully contrived. If Baron Cohen doesn’t have a joke that plays off of shocking you with its political incorrectness, he resorts to biological humor of varying kinds. I’ll let your mind fill in the blanks. There were occasional laughs here and there (it does throw jokes at you every ten seconds or so), but on the whole I was not entertained.
Obnoxious, occasionally offensive, but most of all, unfunny.