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More Kaufman than Chaplin, Sacha Baron Cohen commits to his role as a despot to deliver some biting and unabashedly off-color satire in <em>The Dictator</em>.

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More Kaufman than Chaplin, Sacha Baron Cohen commits to his role as a despot to deliver some biting and unabashedly off-color satire in The Dictator.


The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, and Anna Faris star in a film written by Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer and directed by Larry Charles.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

People who don’t understand why other people enjoy Sacha Baron Cohen films need look no further than this movie’s talking-into-a-vagina scene. It says so much, really. On a hipster-friendly vegan store floor in Brooklyn, a pregnant woman begins to noisily go into labor surrounded by a lot of pale waif LGBTers (easy targets for Cohen’s wide politically incorrect net). He, a horrible Middle Eastern despot in hiding, jumps in to help, though initially turning the act into a quickie rape joke. Oh yeah, and the whole scene is shot from within the woman, where Cohen briefly looses his cell phone before delivering the baby. “It’s a girl,” he says, disappointed. “Where’s the trash can?”

Cohen is, simply put, the most recent pretender to the throne vacated by the late, great trash-talking surrealist comedian Andy Kaufman, who, like Cohen nowadays, refused to do interviews out of character. But Cohen is perhaps a funnier comic under all the purposeful outrageousness, as we see when Aladeen (Cohen, playing with the Aladdin story) finds himself in an expatriates bar, surrounded by people he had sentenced to death. He begins to make up false names for himself based on obvious signs, like “Maximum Occupancy,” a genuinely funny joke that Cohen keeps digging himself into deeper. We watch wondering how he’ll survive the tightrope act, weirdly rooting for him all the way.

But is he good anymore? They say great novelists write one book over and over. Cohen has seemingly diverse characters, though they feel a bit rerun-ish by now. Maybe he’s a white rapper (Ali G), a third-world television commentator (Borat), or a gay German designer (Brüno), but he’s always a boorish egotist running into the sanctimonious hypocrisies of fame-obsessed Western culture. Kaufman made stand-up into an offensive act — performance art that kept changing its own rules. But Cohen keeps attacking the same targets, his intent constant. In other words, he’s still Sacha Baron Cohen — even when shot from a uterus.

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