PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

May 15, 2012

Is Sacha Baron Cohen losing his edge?

Sean McBride
The Port Arthur News

— Sacha Baron Cohen has become too well known to get away with the real life ambush comedy that he made famous in “Borat” and “Bruno.” People can see him coming, so he’s decided to try his hand at scripted comedy instead. The resulting film, “The Dictator” is a mixed bag. It is genuinely funny at times and it’s certainly as crass and obscene as Cohen’s fans would expect it to be. That being said, “The Dictator” doesn’t have the sharp comic edge of his previous films and the soft and gooey romance subplot might lead some to think that Cohen is going soft.

Cohen has created a new character in the form of Admiral General Omar Aladeen, the ruthless dictator of the fictitious North African country of Wadiya. The Admiral General is a tyrant who has his subjects executed for minor offenses while he enjoys the best sex life that money can buy. This all changes when he travels to America to speak to the United Nations.

Wadiya’s Prime Minister (Ben Kingsley) plots to kill Aladeen and have him replaced with a look-a-like puppet. The assassination attempt fails, but the Admiral General loses his trademark beard. Now unrecognizable, he is left to wander the mean streets of New York. Of all people, a feminist organic grocer (Anna Faris) offers him a job and the sparks fly between the two, despite the fact that Aladeen generally abuses her every chance he gets.

That abuse is frequently very funny. Aladeen is unabashedly politically incorrect which allows him to skewer everyone around him. Cohen’s fans will be relieved to note that “The Dictator” is filled with plenty of crass sexual humor, which is, after all, what fans will be coming to see. Some of this is quite shocking, but “The Dictator” also mines many of its jokes from the much softer fields of a fish-out-of-water comedy. The result is a movie that amuses, but doesn’t feel nearly as edgy as his earlier work.

In a bit or a surprising twist, some of Cohen’s best jokes as this character have come while he’s been on the publicity tour for the film. It’s too bad that some of these moments didn’t make it into the final cut of the film. Cohen is at his best when he’s improvising alongside real people, even when they are in on the joke. Put him in the safe confines of a scripted studio film and the comedian loses much of his bite. He’s still quite funny and heaven knows that this is a much better film than his last outing in “Bruno,” but it’s nowhere near the outrageous comic heights that he achieved in “Borat.”

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.