Any casual filmgoer has seen the previews for The Dictator for a year now. Those previews do a good job in extrapolating some of the film’s funnier bits (Sacha Baron Cohen as Aladeen shooting his competitors during a state-sponsored Olympics) while leaving the more outrageous humor to the patrons that actually go see the film (sometimes, previews spotlight the funniest parts of the movie).
The Dictator had most of the audience chuckling at some points, certainly not the belly laughs that The Three Stooges elicited a few weeks ago, but some good howls nonetheless.
Cohen plays Aladeen, the ruthless, bumbling ruler of a North African nation on its way to developing a stockpile of nuclear weapons. He travels to America to address the United Nations about his burgeoning collection of bombs, but he’s replaced by a body double (at the hands of a humorless Ben Kingsley, who plays a mistrustful aid) and is forced to work in an environmentally friendly grocery store while he hatches a plan to replace the puppet dictator who threatens to instill democracy in his stead.
The humor here is so patently offensive that after a while, I didn’t even notice at which group of people Cohen (who also wrote this one) was aiming. It’s the carpetbombing approach to laughter, like Don Rickles on meth. But because Cohen makes fun of everyone and everything, from Israel to Africans to Dick Cheney, the joke is on us.
The previews didn’t foreshadow the tender moments that are included here, but rest assured, they’re wrapped in an offensive cloak.
At 83 minutes, the movie’s relatively short length means that the filmmakers knew when to end things. I’m finally starting to understand the rhythm of films, and I knew when this one was reaching the 20-minutes-until-conclusion watermark.
“All of my friends have got nuclear weapons.” — Aladeen
“We are going to the devil’s nest of America.” — Aladeen
“You are the last great remaining dictator.” — Omar
Other observations at the moviehouse
- The upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks like a real clunker — Honest Abe Meets Buffy, starring the very 1800s-named actor Benjamin Walker. But fear the backlash, film fans: the nascent desperation of Hollywood (another Mission: Impossible sequel is undoubtedly in the works) could spawn a whole genre of copycat films featuring the second jobs of American icons. Think George Washington: Exterminator, Ben Franklin: Caddy and Betsy Ross: Ninja.
- Movie theaters should just give up and allow mobile device usage in the back three rows of theaters. At least two other people were using mobiles in the back row besides me on Sunday morning. But I was using mine to take notes — and check Facebook and email too, during the slower moments anyway …
- Theater chains have finally learned the painful lesson that has made classic rock radio so ubiquitous (hit auto search on the radio next time you’re in the car — I guarantee you’ll hear at least two Led Zeppelin songs up and down the dial, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Cinemark is bringing back all the film snob classics starting this summer — including Cool Hand Luke, The Searchers and Citizen Kane. Here’s an idea: Bring classic rock movies to the theater every now and again. I bet everyone reared in the ‘70s would love another chance to see The Song Remains the Same, The Kids are Alright (there’s your obligatory Who reference) and The Last Waltz (directed by Marty Scorsese, lest we forget) on the big screen. I bet the pervading smell in the theater wouldn’t be stale popcorn on those evenings.
- Tragedy plus time doesn’t equal comedy anymore, it equals horror, if we’re to believe the previews for The Chernobyl Diaries. A group of adventure seekers travels to that godforsaken nuclear plant for a night/weekend of ghostly atomic atrocities. Why didn’t filmmakers think of a haunted nuclear plant before? It’s a glowingly unique concept.
- Fathom Events, the folks who bring opera, orchestral music and the Grateful Dead to movie screens around the country, are sponsoring a parents’ night out evening at local theaters on June 21. Then, America’s top pediatrician (sounds like a reality show), Dr. Harvey Karp, delivers a cinematic lecture on helping parents get the rest they need. I think they’re missing the mark here on two levels: 1) Exhausted parents should go to bed early and not hang out at the movies, and 2) Shouldn’t a parents night out involve some kind of brainless fun entertainment? I’d recommend The Dictator.