- Sport : Late drama as Apollon win Cyprus Cup
- blame : ‘Christofias to blame for our financial collapse’
- hooligans : Our view: Threat to society is from the hooligans, not the...
- Cyprus : Sale of Greek banks ‘could cost BoC millions’
- bank of cyprus : New BoC chief
- Cyprus : EU draft bank rescue law would not shield big deposits
- ayia napa : Sex museum ordered to close its doors
- Cyprus : Court disruption as family try to attack man accused of murder
- Britain's got talent : Cypriot success on Britain’s Got Talent
- Cyprus : Ministry could be fined for forcing girl to sit through RE...
Film review: The Dictator ***
Admiral-General Aladeen, the Gaddafi-like dictator of the East African country of Wadiya, is such a megalomaniac that, among other things, he’s changed 300 words in the Wadiyan language to ‘Aladeen’. They include the words for ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ – which leads to some problems, for instance when a Wadiyan man goes to his doctor. “I have aladeen news, and I have aladeen news,” says the doctor. “Give me the aladeen news first,” says the man. “You’re HIV-aladeen!” proclaims the doctor – and the man smiles broadly at this wonderful news … then thinks about it, and looks crestfallen at this tragic news … then thinks some more, and smiles broadly at this wonderful news…
You might think that joke is a little musty, but at least it’s a joke. It has a set-up and a punchline; you could tell it to someone in the pub. Jokes are an endangered species in Hollywood comedy at the moment, especially in the hipper kind of comedy. They don’t do jokes anymore; they do riffs. “Korean Jesus” in 21 Jump Street was a riff (“Stop f**kin’ with Korean Jesus! He busy! With Korean shit!”). The “pickle nerd” in The Five-Year Engagement was a riff. Riffs are little nuggets of drive-by outrageousness, unburdened by structure or relevance. The most memorable comedy scene of the year so far, Paul Rudd’s improvised ‘mirror monologue’ in Wanderlust, is a total riff.
Sacha Baron Cohen does riffs as well – no surprise, since he started out in sketch comedy – but in fact there’s always been something old-fashioned in his humour. Ali G Indahouse had scenes of sustained innuendo worthy of a Carry On movie, and now The Dictator tells a farcical plot with a knockabout tone that’s smart and surprisingly consistent. This wasn’t liked in America (SBC’s promotional antics didn’t help, especially gate-crashing the Oscars in character as Aladeen), and admittedly it doesn’t feature the audacious meta-comedy of Borat and Bruno; Baron Cohen isn’t walking a tightrope here, making you cringe in embarrassment and admire his fearlessness at the same time – but he’s still outrageous, and just as fearless in his hatred of cant and hypocrisy. His real venom isn’t reserved for Gaddafi-like dictators – it’s reserved for the West’s self-righteous bleating about “democracy”, a codeword for opening up Third World countries to greedy corporate interests. Aladeen refuses to sell his country’s oil (OK, that bit is a little implausible) so his venal right-hand man plots to kill him and take over, after which he’ll sell out the (now-democratic) country to the world’s oil companies and buy a house on Lake Como next to George Clooney.
Baron Cohen uses the inevitable big-speech climax (Aladeen addressing the UN) for subversive ends, the Dictator becoming himself again – and laying out the film’s sophisticated point, viz. that US capitalism isn’t far removed from a dictatorship – instead of repenting. The film subverts clichιs in small ways as well, as when Aladeen, roaming the streets of New York like Prince Akeem in Coming to America, must think fast when introducing himself to dictator-hating Zoey (Anna Faris). “What’s your last name?” she asks; he looks around frantically, and his eye alights on a sign for ‘Haffezi’s Burgers’ – but instead of saying ‘Haffezi’, like a thousand movie heroes before him, he says ‘Burgers’, and goes through the rest of the film as ‘Alison Burgers’.
There are tangents, of course. The scene where Aladeen discovers masturbation (!) is the equivalent of the nude wrestling in Borat, a gratuitous detour designed to be talked about – but it’s still funny, especially when his epiphany is cross-cut with dolphins leaping and birds flying free. Later there’s a severed head, later still a woman giving birth (Aladeen nearly forgets his phone in her vagina), all of which makes it sound like outrageousness for its own sake. So it is, to an extent – but it never feels complacent, never wallows in its own daring. The jokes keep coming, from a crack about Crocs to an Edward Norton cameo (it’s a long story) and a torture instrument – the “Kandahar cock-wrench” – that was “banned in Saudi Arabia for being too safe”. And you’ve never heard R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ till you’ve heard it sung in Arabic, a language Baron Cohen seems to find intrinsically funny. He has a point.
I hesitate to say ‘I found The Dictator funny’ and leave it at that – because someone else might find it totally unfunny, and where does that get us? But please note this film is 83 minutes long, when something as disposable as Get Him to the Greek was 109 minutes (Bridesmaids was over two hours), and it keeps zapping you with gags when so many Hollywood comedies meander self-indulgently. Not to mention its blissfully silly sense of humour, like the sign on the door of a Wadiyan restaurant: “Come in, We’re Aladeen” / “Sorry, We’re Aladeen”.
Above all, it brims with a bracing political incorrectness, from Zoey’s “vegan co-operative” with its organic garden and “lesbian bathroom” to Baron Cohen’s sharp political worldview – neither buying into the democracy-as-panacea groupthink nor mindlessly ‘anti-liberal’ like Team America: World Police some years ago. Instead, here’s a film where the “One Year Later” epilogue finds democracy having come at last to the long-suffering people of Wadiya – meaning, in effect, that Admiral-General Aladeen is now Admiral-General-President-Prime-Minister Aladeen! No wonder it was hated in America.
DIRECTED BY Larry Charles
STARRING Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley
US 2012 83 mins