Thursday, 14 June 2012

Film Review: 15 June

A bearded megalomaniac with women and guns, Sacha Baron Cohen creates another hit

Written by Barry Norman


barry-normanBWJust for a while there as Sacha Baron Cohen tenderly kissed a woman's hairy armpit the fearful thought arose that the man was getting soft on us. But no, it's OK; The Dictator is certainly a far more conventional film than Borat or Brüno but there are enough cringe-making moments to reassure us that Cohen is still the most politically incorrect and, when the mood takes him, most gloriously offensive comedian now working in films.

Mind you, the movie's dedication – 'in loving memory of Kim Jong-Il' – is an immediate reminder that we're in safe hands.

Cohen plays General Admiral Aladeen, dictator and supreme commander of the North African nation of Wadiya. He lives in an enormous palace, surrounded by a nubile bodyguard in kinky uniforms, organises his own Olympic Games where he wins 14 gold medals largely by dint of shooting any competitor who threatens to beat him, and orders anyone who contradicts him to be assassinated.

In his luxurious bed he makes love to Megan Fox, whom we see, along with a host of other celebrities who, according to his wallchart of postcoital photos, include Oprah Winfrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Saddam, Gaddafi and Assad never had it so good.

Danger, however, threatens in the shape of his right-hand man Tamir (Ben Kingsley), rightful heir to the dictatorship, who is plotting to usurp him so that he can sell the country's oil rights to among others an obscenely lascivious Chinese.

Using an invasion threat by America as an excuse, Kingsley encourages the dictator to address the United Nations in New York, where he hatches an assassination plot. It fails and Cohen escapes, though de-bearded and thus unrecognisable, while a doppelgänger, a moronic goatherd, takes his place.

Now the film enters fish-outof- water territory as Cohen is befriended by Anna Faris, she of the hairy armpits, a vegan, feminist immigrant-hugging restaurant manager. He rewards her kindness by calling her a lesbian Hobbit and Hairy Potter, but even so, romance of a kind blossoms.

Meanwhile, with the aid of his former nuclear rocket scientist Jason Mantzoukas, whom he thought he had had executed but who is now in exile in New York, Cohen plots to restore himself to his rightful position as dictator.

As directed by Larry Charles and written by a team headed by Cohen himself, The Dictator rattles along at a brisk pace, crammed with slapstick, sight gags and personal and racial insults.

Wisely, unlike so many comedies, it doesn't try to extend itself beyond the confi nes of its slim plot and only runs for a satisfying 85 minutes.

Towards the end, Cohen addresses the United Nations and urges America to become a dictatorship. What the country would be like if it did, he says, listing all the plus points is, well, exactly as it is now.

Maybe that won't win him many friends in the USA – or maybe it will – but it all adds to what is, like most of Cohen's work, a splendid monument to bad taste.

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