Sasha Baron Cohen is this generation’s version of Robin Williams especially with respect to the way he handles his own public relations. He’ll often appear as a character on a talk show and not stray from that persona the entire time. Most people I know despise this type of approach and yet people just keep doing it so I assume they have some metric that tells them it works. For me it means I had to be sold on his efforts with a bit of extra effort to get past the shtick.
After delaying forever in seeing Borat—which looked like one of his talk show endeavors but for nearly two straight hours—I finally gave in and went to see it. I was entirely fearful that I’d be treated to something impossible to get through. Instead I found it brilliant, hilarious and memorable. Then came Bruno which was a complete disaster for me. It was everything I feared Borat would be. I then tuned out for a bit but came back to his frequency after his wonderful turn as the “bad guy turned good” security officer in Hugo. It’s a role that just touched you regardless of your feelings for him. The guy clearly has deep reserves of talent. I then recalled the history of both Robin Williams and Steve Martin. Both started out early with cartoonish characterizations in very campy films only to emerge as extremely talented, serious actors. Could it be that the same path is in store for Cohen?
That’s the mindset that I entered The Dictator with. I wondered if this was supposed to represent any sort of play off Charlie Chaplin‘s famous film, The Great Dictator. For better or worse it didn’t seem to be related.
From the first moments of the film it felt overly campy. Much has been said about this being his first “complete” film with regard to story line but, frankly, I can’t agree. Yeah, it has a story, but it bounces too wildly across every spectrum.
When it’s funny it’s outright, rip-roaring, hilarious. There are several memorable comments and scenes that only Cohen could attempt. There’s one that involves a gynecological scene that has to be experienced to be believed. That I loved.
In the end I found the film quirky, funny, but mainly lacking. It simply isn’t up to the level of Borat and I expect it’ll be quickly forgotten.