Sacha Baron Cohen may be a comedic genius, but his latest film – “The Dictator” – is lacking the hilarity and socially conscious raison d’etre of his previous pictures, “Borat” and “Bruno.”
“The Dictator” may seem timely, considering that its lead character is Middle Eastern despot Aladeen (Cohen), whose nation is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
But it’s difficult to discern whether Cohen and director Larry Charles are satirizing current events or, rather, Americans’ perceptions of those events.
In the film, Aladeen’s nation is threatened by war if he fails to discontinue its weapons manufacturing program. He arrives in New York with the intention of speaking at the United Nations, is betrayed by a compatriot and ends up wandering the streets of Brooklyn as a double takes his place at the UN.
Aladeen befriends the politically correct owner (Anna Farris) of an earthy market, who has been hired as the vendor for the United Nations. Naturally, Aladeen sees a way to halt his betrayers and body double from signing a peace treaty.
In his previous films, much of the humor came from Cohen’s characters ability to inspire racist or homophobic language from unwitting, but very real, subjects and then lampooning their ignorance.
But it’s not as funny to watch Cohen spout that same type of language in a scripted format. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments in “The Dictator,” but many of the jokes fall flat.
And the picture suffers from the lack of spontaneity that made “Borat” and “Bruno” so outrageously funny.
The week’s other wide release – “Battleship” finds director Peter Berg (“Hancock”) wandering into Michael Bay territory.
Based on the Hasbro board game, this expensive-looking military action movie utilizes the worst elements of Bay’s films, including rapid fire editing, a bombardment of special effects, speechifying and syrupy, ballad-scored love scenes on a beach.
On the other hand, Berg’s treatment of the military is slightly more respectful than Bay’s fetishistic approach to combat and weaponry on display in the headache-inducing “Transformers” films.
One of the most heroic figures in “Battleship” is a soldier who has lost both of his legs, while a group of elderly veterans help to save the day by putting the U.S.S. Missouri back into service.
Unfortunately, these scenes only make up a fraction of this epic-length action film, which involves a rowdy young man (Taylor Kitsch) who enlists in the Navy at the request of his older brother (Alexander Skarsgard).
Berg plucks a story line straight out of “Armageddon” by putting Kitsch’s character at odds with Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), whose daughter (Brooklyn Decker) he happens to be dating.
During a routine naval games weekend, aliens that resemble Transformers attack off the coast of Hawaii and all of the film’s characters are forced to chip in to stave off the invaders.
“Battleship” boasts some decent special effects, but there are entirely too many of them. The script is by-the-numbers and the director’s decision to channel Bay’s work is misguided.
Filmgoers in search of something slightly more cerebral might want to check out “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” a visually impressive, but mostly nonsensical, attempt to recreate an early 1980s science fiction thriller.
There’s much to praise in Panos Cosmatos’s movie, so it’s a disappointment that the film feels so curiously flat.
The picture eerily captures the look and feel of a late 1970s or early 80s film and its synth-heavy score is one of the best since last year’s “Drive.”
Any attempts to describe the film's story would be futile, but it has something to do with a young woman who appears to have ESP and the doctor who torments her in his laboratory.
The film makes little sense narratively, which is something I could get my head around a little better if its pacing weren’t so glacial.
I’ve noticed that the picture has been described as a trance film, but I found it to be more sleep-inducing.
Cosmatos has some obvious talents creating mood and adding stylistic touches, but I’m hoping his next attempt will be less of a nostalgic exercise.
The week’s best cinematic selection by far is Maiwenn Le Besco’s “Polisse,” an ensemble piece on various Child Protection Unit officers in Paris.
The picture drew mixed reviews at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but I found it to be riveting.
In just two hours, the movie packs in enough plotlines and characters for an entire season’s worth of your favorite prime time cop show.
Its leads are men and women of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds who attempt to juggle their crumbling personal lives with their jobs, which require nabbing pedophiles, child abusers and exploiters of various kinds.
There’s little in the way of plot. Often, the film moves from one case or scenario to the next and then juxtaposes sequences in which the story’s leads attempt to deal with their own spouses or children. Occasionally, a romance blossoms between the CPU officers or a friendship falls apart.
All of the actors in the film deliver naturalistic performances, giving “Polisse” a documentary-style feel. Fans of gritty cop dramas won’t want to miss it.