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The Dictator (2012)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/21/2012

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/19/2012

Ask anyone who knows about comedy and they will tell you that the key to being funny is the element of surprise. You take the listener/viewer down one path and then suddenly turn to the funny part. Comedians as diverse as Steven Wright and Daniel Tosh get laughs by saying the last thing that you would expect anyone to say, thus embracing the element of surprise. Surprise's somewhat more uninhibited cousin is shock. While surprise is "I didn't know he was going to say that!", shock is "I can't believe that he said that!!!!" Shock can be funny as well, and with shock comedy, we often find ourselves ashamed that we are laughing at the jokes. But, shock comedy can easily backfire as well. Sacha Baron Cohen burst onto the scene in Britain a little over a decade ago with his Ali G character. He then got attention in the U.S. with the Borat and Bruno films. Cohen's version of shock comedy played like a sadistic version of Candid Camera as he took his characters into real-life situations and captured the reactions of innocent bystanders. With his latest film, The Dictator, Cohen has changed the approach, but the style of humor has stayed the same.

Cohen stars in The Dictator as General Admiral Aladeen, the tyrannical leader of the north African country of Wadiya. Gaining power at age 7, Aladeen has grown into a madman who orders anyone he doesn't like to be executed. He lives in the lap of luxury and longs to have nuclear weapons. When the UN threatens to conduct an inspection, Aladeen goes to New York to make a speech. Once there, he is double-crossed by his top advisor, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), and replaced with a look-alike. Tamir's plan is to make Wadiya a democracy so that he can sell the oil rights. Aladeen is able to escape from his kidnapper, but now shorn of his famous beard, he no longer looks like himself. He's taken in by Zoey (Anna Faris), the kind-hearted owner of a "green" store. Aladeen runs into an exiled Wadiyan and they begin to formulate a plan to stop Tamir. Meanwhile, Aladeen is learning about America and freedom and begins to have feelings for Zoey.

Unlike Borat and Bruno which, again, used an insane Candid Camera approach, The Dictator has been done as a regular narrative film, featuring a story and characters and fictional settings. But, as noted above, Cohen and filmmaking partner Larry Charles' style of humor has not changed. Whereas Cohen seemed determined to shock and upset the unsuspecting people he ran into in his previous films, with The Dictator he's simply out to get the audience. No one is safe here, as the jokes are directed at every race, each gender, various religions, and so on. While Cohen and Charles' earlier films had funny moments (well, Borat did at least), The Dictator plays more as a traditional comedy, even bordering on a romantic comedy at times.

In terms of comedic style, the movie almost plays like a Zucker-Abrams-Zucker film, as it is constantly throwing jokes at us. Unfortunately, for every joke which is funny, there are four which completely fall flat and five which are too offensive and shocking to be funny. So, the true laughs here are few and far between. With many of the jokes, we can see how they may have seemed humorous at the time, but they aren't worthy of a laugh. In short, The Dictator tries too hard. Cohen is so busy going out of his way to be shocking and controversial that he completely forgets to be clever. There are a few jokes here which are silly and creative and thus work quite well. (Such as when an inanimate object has a flashback to Aladeen's cruelty.) Unfortunately, these funny moments only highlight how the other jokes don't work. Cohen is who he is and his style of humor is clearly not for everyone, but while watching the movie I couldn't help but think that if he would lay off trying to insult everyone and name-drop celebrities and simply focus on being funny, then this could be a good movie.

As far as his acting, Cohen is pretty good here. He's made a career of playing narcissistic and oblivious characters who donít understand how their actions effect others, and Aladeen may be his most obnoxious yet, as he doesnít care what others think and heís used to being worshipped. Cohen stretches this usual schtick a bit by having to play Aladeen as his lowest point as well. Anna Faris changes things up from her usual character, as she looks very butch and sheís not playing a stupid person. The good thing is that she has excellent comic timing and sheís able to go toe-to-toe with Cohen. Cohen has also littered the film with some interesting cameos and one canít help but wonder what Ben Kingsley is doing here.

The idea of using a dictator as the target for comedy is not new and actually dates back to the 1940s at the least. In terms of modern films, 2004's Team America: World Police attacked Kim Jong-Il (To whom, incidentally, The Dictator is dedicated). So, some of the ideas presented here aren't very original, but Cohen's aggressive style of comedy certainly puts a different spin on things. Unfortunately, many of the jokes fall flat and the movie reminded me in many ways of Mike Myers The Love Guru, as what should have been a slam-dunk character misses the mark.

(The Blu-ray Disc also contains an unrated cut of the film which runs some 15 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The additional footage featured in the unrated cut is made up mostly of elements which can also be seen in the deleted and extended scenes found in the extras section.)

The Dictator joins everyone else by working in a zipline on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is quite detailed and never soft. The depth is what we would expect from a Blu-ray Disc. This is what a brand-new movie should look like in HD. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done in some scenes, as they are detailed and show good stereo separation. The surround sound effects come to life in crowd scenes and we can pick out individual sounds. There are only a few subwoofer effects in the film and being a comedy, they make their presence known, but donít overwhelm things.

The Dictator Blu-ray Disc is somewhat lacking in overall extras. The Disc contains 15 DELTED AND EXTENDED SCENES which run about 34 minutes. Some of these scenes are simply longer versions of existing scenes from the movie. Of the new scenes, one explains why a goat suddenly shows up in the middle of the movie and another is a long and bizarre scenes in which Aladeen is attacked by a buxom woman. Not unlike the full film, the jokes in the deleted scenes are very hit or miss. "Larry King Interview" (3 minutes) is mock chat with the veteran newsman. The Ryan Seacrest red carpet incident is addressed here, and Aladeen's wild claims are humorous. The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Your Money is on the Dresser", which is an "award wining" song recorded by Aladeen.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long