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The Dictator reigns supreme Madonna’s W.E. is fashionably D.O.A.

by Mark Burger

The Dictator is a brisk, bawdy vehicle for Sacha Baron Cohen, who embodies the title role of Aladeen, the admiral general of Wadiya, a fictional North African nation not unlike any number of Middle Eastern nations not necessarily on friendly terms with this one.

On a “good will” tour of New York City, where he is greeted with disdain and outright hostility — none of which fazes him in the least — Aladeen is kidnapped, shorn of his trademark beard and stripped of his identity. Now, he must fend for himself on the streets of New York while his dimwit double, Efawadh (also Cohen), stands in for him. Most shocking of all to Aladeen is that his closest adviser, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), plans to declare Wadiya a democracy, a decision that delights the international community and infuriates its true leader.

Teamed with Cohen for the third time is director Larry Charles, having helmed 2006’s Borat (assuming the directorial reins from the departing Todd Phillips) and 2008’s Bruno.

The Dictator is not in the same “mockumentary” mode as the earlier films — perhaps because Cohen’s become a much more familiar face — yet it merrily subverts the conventions of a high-concept comedy in cheerfully vulgar fashion.

Aladeen is clearly the film’s hero — even winning the heart of the girl (Anna Faris, in this case) — yet there’s an amusing twist in that what he’s fighting for is to ensure the world is safe for dictatorships.

Given Cohen’s go-for-broke attitude and predilection for multiple roles here, comparisons to Peter Sellers are warranted. So too is comparison (in addition to the title) to Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 classic The Great Dictator, in which he played a thinly veiled variation of Adolf Hitler and his lookalike. (Unlike Cohen, however, Chaplin kept his clothes on throughout the film.)

A game supporting cast includes Jason Mantzoukas, playing a former scientific adviser to Aladeen who was ordered assassinated but instead fled to New York City. In fact, all of those whom Aladeen ordered assassinated were instead banished to the Big Apple — specifically the “Little Wadiya” section of the city. It’s always nice to have Kingsley on hand, although he doesn’t have much to do except maintain a straight face. Strange to think that he and Cohen were recently seen, under very different circumstances, in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

There are also cameo appearances by Kevin Corrigan, John C. Reilly, Megan Fox, Garry Shandling, Chris Parnell, Fred Armisen, Chris Elliott, JB Smoove and Edward Norton.

Especially good is Faris, cast as a lovably kooky 21st century New Age idealist. Not only is she able to keep up with Cohen — and match him for laughs at times — she also appears to be doing a take-off, and a very good one, on actress Ginnifer Goodwin. (She plays Goodwin better than Goodwin.)

For all of its lowbrow humor, which is plentiful throughout, The Dictator is at heart pure satire. It pokes fun at topics that otherwise wouldn’t be particularly funny. Borat and Bruno offended their share of audiences, and The Dictator is poised to do likewise. That doesn’t mean it’s not funny. It just cuts too close for some people — and that, undoubtedly, is the point. Besides, any film dedicated “in loving memory” to Kim Jong Il clearly isn’t playing it safe, or close to the vest. Just the opposite.

The W and E in WE stand for Wallis and Edward, whose romance rocked the world in the 1930s when Edward, the King of England, abdicated his throne for a twicedivorced American viewed by many British subjects as common and beneath his station.

WE marks the second directorial effort from one Madonna Louise Ciccone, better known globally as Madonna, and it’s an arty, self-indulgent mess. It’s obvious that she and co-screenwriter Alek Keshishian (who directed her Truth or Dare documentary 20 years ago) have a fascination with the saga of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but are unable to impart that interest to the viewer.

Abbie Cornish, beautiful as always (more gravely so under these circumstances), plays Wally Winthrop, a 20th century woman obsessed with the romance, to such an extent that it consumes her life. With her husband (Richard Coyle) away on business much of the time, Wally has too much free time on her hands. So too does the movie, which drifts languidly back and forth in time.

James D’Arcy and Andrea Riseborough are seen in flashbacks as Edward and Wallis, yet there’s never a sense of urgency or even basic involvement in their story, or in Wally’s.

Oscar Isaac plays Evgeni, a security guard at a museum hosting an exhibition and auction devoted to Edward and Wallis — an exhibition frequented by Wally. Could Evgeni be Wally’s Mr. Right? Their longing gazes at one another would seem to bear this out.

Surface elegance aside — the film did earn an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design — the story, like its protagonist, struggles to find the parallels between Edward and Wallis’ life and her own. Without a tighter grasp of the narrative, it ultimately loses that struggle.

WE is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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