As I am now nearly a month into this mission to watch a movie each day, (and yes I am sneaking in just under the wire with today’s review,) I can’t help but reflect on how much my expectations going into a movie can impact my enjoyment of said movie. The conventional wisdom, I think, is that expectations can have a major impact on how a movie is received, but honestly, I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe my sample size is too small, after all over half the movies I’ve watched thus far were movies where I had absolutely no real expectations going in. One thing I can say for sure, is that the movie I watched today, Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator was exactly what I initially expected it to be and that was disappointing.
When I first saw trailers for The Dictator, my thoughts were something to the effect of this: “That’s a pretty funny trailer, but I’ve just seen all the funniest parts of the movie. I’m not terribly interested in the plot where the Dictator gets deposed and wrapped up with some hippie chick, and learns how to be “sensitive” and how to be in a contrived movie romance, also I’m assuming that the movie will resort to a lot attempts at ‘I can’t believe they went there’ type humor, at least a third third of which will wind-up going to far, thus ruining the humor.”
Then I started seeing some reviews. Some of these claimed that this was a good movie. They claimed it was hilarious. They claimed it had a good heart. These reviewers were wrong.
This movie has some funny moments. In fact it has some very funny moments. Unfortunately I can essentially recap all of the legitimately funny parts in this paragraph. In fact, they’re pretty much all in he first half-hour of the movie.
The initial scenes featuring Baron Cohen’s Admiral General Aladeen in his element as the Dictator of the fictional nation of Wadiya are fantastic. John C Reilly, (who appears uncredited, but is in the trailer,) is in top form in his two scenes as security-expert Clayton. A scene featuring Fred Armisen as a restauranteur in New York’s Little Wayidia who proves skeptical of the transparent aliases adopted by Aladeen, is a genuinely funny moment, in a movie that by this point in it’s plot is devolving into anti-humor. The only truly funny scene after this point is a scene, again featured in the trailer, in which Aladeen, and his colleague Omar (Sayed Badreya) pose as tourists on a Manhattan-skyline helicopter ride.
There’s a fine line between outrageously funny, and just an outrage. Of course, if you go to see a movie like this, you should know better than to actually be outraged, but that doesn’t move said fine line. Insteatd, the fine line becomes one between outrageously funny and stupidly unfunny. As The Dictator progresses it starts to rack up an increasing stack of moments that land on the stupidly unfunny side of the line. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good molestation joke as much as the next blogger, but when a joke fails to be actually funny, because the filmmakers think pure audacity is a substitute for actual wit, it makes it that much harder to laugh at the next joke. So while there are some funny moments throughout the film, they lose their impact amid all the less than low-brow “humor.”
You might be noticing that I haven’t mentioned Anna Farris as hippie shopkeeper/obligatory love-interest Zoey. I was thinking of not mentioning her at all, owing to a long-standing personal prohibition against saying mean things about
beautiful women, but I’ve officially been a recreational movie critic for about a month now, so I guess I have an obligation to say something. I really hated Zoey. In all fairness to Ms. Farris, I don’t know if this was at all her fault, as I’m convinced it had a lot to do with the writing and direction. I get the impression that Zoey is supposed to be the heart of the movie, the emotional sweetheart that allows Aladeen to have a character arc. Unfortunately, I don’t buy her in this capacity at all. It could be because she seems to vacillate between being the “real” person that the audience is supposed to be able to relate to and being the cartoonish hippie opposite side of Aladeen’s goofball coin.
I do have one more small item of praise, or perhaps, some grudging credit-where-due that I would be remiss not to mention. This film, in true character-comedy movie fashion ends with the main character having learned from his experiences in the movie, and making some grand gesture to demonstrate he has changed. However as the credits roll we see a series of scenes that reveal that despite his big speech, once he gets back home Aladeen is still the same guy he always was. Which, I always imagine, is what would happen to so many other movie characters once the plot is over. I enjoyed this small subversion of convention. Was it enough to wash the bad taste out of my mouth? No, but it did find a way to end on a bit of an up-note.
I’ve had a tough time deciding how I’m actually going to rate this movie. The first half-hour is fantastic, and there are a few real laughs scattered through the rest of the film. Unfortunately, you’ve got to sit through a lot of tasteless material to get there. Notice I didn’t say tasteless humor. I’ve got no problem with tasteless humor. The problem here is that too much the tasteless stuff isn’t funny, and director Larry Charles seems to think that just grinding away at the same non-joke for two minutes will somehow transform it into an actual joke, a technique that fails more than it succeeds. At the end of the day, I’ve got to say that you should avoid seeing this movie, definitely don’t pay to see it, …but maybe do look out for clips of the few good scenes, because in the right (small) doses The Dictator can be funny.