In 2006, I had already enjoyed Sacha Baron Cohen as Jean Girard, red-white & blue Will Ferrell’s French, arrogant, car-racing rival in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”. Cohen, it could be argued, stole the show. Later that year, Sacha and director Larry Charles released the mockumentary “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”. It opened #1 at the box office and was a major smash, eventually grossing over a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide. But I paid it no mind. It didn’t seem like something I would like at all. Then in January 2007, “Borat” inexplicably received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay! Now, I was intrigued. I remember searching for a theater that was still showing it, so I could see it before the Oscars. Sitting with my sparse crowd, in a second-run theater in Teaneck, New Jersey—I was utterly amazed. I laughed my ass off from beginning to end! Crass, offensive, vulgar—and even outright mean—it nevertheless tickled my funny bone in just the right way. Cohen was playing a character in Borat, but his interviews and “run-ins” (some rumored to be pre-arranged)with unsuspecting celebrities, politicians, and just plain, old, regular folks, left me in stitches. In 2009, Charles and Cohen teamed again for “Bruno”. This was based on another of Sacha’s creations—a gay, Austrian, fashion designer. Also done in mockumentary style, it was not as funny as “Borat”—but still pretty good. Which brings us to 2012’s “The Dictator”—and the law of diminishing returns. More of a straight narrative film than mockumentary style, with almost zero reliance on duping unsuspecting foils, it still employs many of the tricks and set-ups that Charles and Cohen have been milking for years. Laden with renowned actors in actual roles(Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris and John C. Reilly), as well as a slew of cameos from a bunch of others(Garry Shandling, Chris Elliot, and Edward Norton & Megan Fox as themselves), “The Dictator” is the least fresh of the triptych of films. You’ll pick up on elements of both “Borat” and “Bruno”. And it’s never quite as good, because you’re expecting so many of the devices now. I imagine that many people who made their way to “The Hangover Part III” this weekend, encountered the same issue. How many times can you possibly go to the well?
Hey, I laughed during “The Dictator”. The misadventures of the tyrannical Admiral General Haffez Aladeen(Mr. Cohen)as he wanders NYC after having his signature beard shaven off by a would-be torturer(the more-often-than-not, wonderful John C. Reilly)is sometimes hilarious. Some of the bits, especially those with the ever-impressive Anna Faris as boyish, love interest Zoey, are uproarious. And Mr. Cohen even gets to embody two roles, as he also plays the village idiot twin decoy that is propped up by rivals to deliver a United Nations speech in lieu of the actual Aladeen. But it’s getting more difficult for me to decipher how “The Dictator” is any better than something like Seth McFarlane’s “Ted” at this point, with its over-reliance on homophobia, sexism and scatological humour. Let’s face it, there’s only so much more you can mine out of seeing Mr. Cohen’s hairy, naked physique again. Plus, you expect way too many jokes coming a great deal ahead of time. For instance, when Aladeen is looking over a snapshot wall of his celebrity, sexual conquests—how many number of women will we see before a dude pops up? And there’s Ah-nuld. It’s pretty obvious stuff. Still, not to be the total party-pooper, “The Dictator” was a financial hit—just like “Borat” and “Bruno” before it. So, I have to acknowledge that many people are still buying this act. But certainly not as many as before. And I’m just about done, myself. The talented Mr. Cohen needs a fresh approach—this one is finally a bit stale. Grade: C+