Opening 17 May 2012
Once again Sacha Baron Cohen’s multiple personality fills the screen, this time as a dictator in a fictitious north African country called Wadiya. He is Admiral General Aladeen, wears dark glasses and many medals, and strokes a very fake plush beard. The film opens “in loving memory of Kim Jong-Il.” Naturally, this is a spoof on dictatorial situations in the twenty-first century. Aladeen rules with an iron hand; a short flick of this hand across his neck means “off with his head” to anyone to dares to differ. Strangely, all of those supposedly beheaded end up alive and well in Brooklyn, but that’s later. Nobody is as important as Aladeen in Wadiya, but two characters manage to hold their own. One is a country buffoon look-a-like, a double for the dictator in order to deflect sharpshooters with assassination on the brain. This man is, of course, also played by Cohen. The other is Tamir, second in charge (some sources say he’s a brother, others an uncle) played by Ben Kingsley. At any rate Tamir stirs up intrigues in an effort to topple Aladeen from the throne, in order to push his own goals for the future of the country. Aladeen flies to the United Nations, and therefore New York, to make a speech. In the end his double makes the speech, while the original roams the streets of Brooklyn, incognito, shorn of beard and glasses (where he now actually looks quite handsome). He meets Joey (Anna Faris), who hires him to work in her grocery store and they fall in love.
Since this is Sacha Baron Cohen, no one and no culture is spared satirical references, some funny, some intelligent, some gross, and some unnecessary (the birthing scene on the floor of the grocery store). He does not refrain from making jabs at 9/11, Jews (his own ethnic group), women, etc. Especially brilliant is his soliloquy on the benefits of democracy and why one should prefer it.
This is not Cohen’s best parody, but still worth seeing, especially if you are a fan. This time everyone is an actor; no innocent people on the street make fools of themselves. I call this the Michael Moore syndrome: once you are as well-known as Cohen (or Moore), it is increasing difficult to find people who are unfamiliar with your work and therefore easy to manipulate into embarrassing situations as he did in the guise of Ali G or Borat or Brüno. There is a 10-second appearance by Edward Norton who is not in the credits. Directed by Larry Charles. If you are seriously interested in films, this is the time to check out The Great Dictator by and with Charles Chaplin from 1940. (Becky Tan)