Friday, May 25, 2012


Sacha Baron Cohen being
escorted off the red carpet
Sacha Baron Cohen's latest movie made national headlines even before it came to the big screen when the star appeared at the Oscars wearing his dictator costume, accompanied by two curvaceous women soldier characters, and dumping ashes all over the red carpet and Ryan Seacrest. London-born Sacha Baron Cohen first found fame as sketch character Ali G. on Da Ali G. Show in 2000, making a name for himself by subjecting unsuspecting people to comic situations he deliberately orchestrated to offend or ridicule them. He took two of his characters to the big screen in full length features Borat (2006) and Bruno (2009). Sacha Baron Cohen's characters and films court controversy because, in many cases, his brash political incorrectness serves to reveal the latent indifference to prejudice that lies at the root of many supposedly civilized western societies.

Sacha Baron Cohen
(not bad!)

Because The Dictator is actually not as offensive as Sacha Baron Cohen's other two films, I don't think it has been talked about as much in the media. It is the story of the corrupted dictator Aladeen of a small (fictional) North African country called Wadiya. When he goes to New York to attend a UN conference, his uncle (who wants to make a profit by selling off Wadiya's oil supplies) has him kidnapped. Aladeen escapes torture but is left destitute on the streets of New York City. Through an unlikely chain of events, he meets environmental feminist grocery store owner Zoey who gives him a job. He also runs into an acquaintance from Wadiya who recognizes him and helps him hatch a plan to reclaim his identity and prevent Wadiya becoming a democracy.

What makes The Dictator more palatable than Borat is that I don't think we mind shamelessly making fun of Arab dictators. In this case, Sacha Baron Cohen is not insulting an entire culture, he is satirizing something bad - dictatorship. Just as Charlie Chaplin did in The Great Dictator, we enjoy laughing at the foolishly cruel actions of an individual we can identify 100% as an enemy. This movie is funny because the jokes actually relate to some semblance of truth about how we think and feel about evil rulers. It also taps into some of the inherent flaws of democracy, American democracy, and by the end of the film, the character embodying the liberal, environmental, LGBT, feminist, Jewish strain in our culture is celebrated.

The film, of course, pushes things a little bit when it comes to sex jokes. They're pretty dumb and not pleasant. But I am at the point where I can just roll my eyes when Sacha Baron Cohen pulls that kind of stunt in the same way I can look the other way when Tim Burton goes too far with the blood and gore. It's just something you have to put up with in this sort of movie. I don't think it ruins it, but it certainly doesn't make it any better. In summation, I think The Dictator was funny enough to be worth seeing the once, but I don't know if it has such an impact that I would encourage other people to rush out and buy a ticket. It's not exactly a pleasant experience, but it has its moments.

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