Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, a truly slumming Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
Review: 2 stars (of five)
Sacha Baron Cohen plays a third-world refugee wandering through America, spouting culturally offensive gibberish in a cartoon accent. Like Borat, but scripted and tedious.
The movie is essentially flaccid, with a few laughs derived from its scattershot political incorrectness. Cohen’s dictator character is quickly stripped of all power and set loose in Manhattan, where he becomes just another crude caricature saying wildly crude things to an equally overblown caricature of a touchy-feely, neo-hippie feminist. Thus, the essential joke of the film–the misadventures of a ruthless North African dictator–is stripped away to make room for jokes about the cost of Internet service and mini-bars in an expensive hotel room.
Not only is the character quickly taken out of power, he’s replaced by something even more abhorrent and detrimental to his people, and we learn that while he has ordered the execution of hundreds of his citizens for the most trivial offenses, fate has conspired such that none of his victims have actually died. To make sure you get it, a character says nearly into the camera, “You have never killed anyone!” You know what you get if you take a ruthless third-world dictator with patriarchal, retrograde political views and take away his authority and crimes? A less-funny version of Archie Bunker. You get All in the Family (complete with liberal straw-person) with anal fisting.
An interesting bit involves our dethroned dictator urging America to embrace totalitarianism, whose advantages would let us shunt 99 percent of the wealth to one percent of the population, to make the rest support policies counter to their interests through media manipulation, to dismantle education and health programs, et cetera. It’s a 60-second sledgehammer, but nice nonetheless, and it made me wish the film had found a way to grapple with anything that felt real, rather than having Cohen trying to draw laughs from outrageously insulting feminists who don’t shave their armpits and handicapped shop clerks.
So, hey, enjoy all that. But in a world in which the Harold & Kumar films have consistently mined the genres of the absurd, the gross, the offensive and cultural satire, this movie really brings very little to the table.