There has been a tyrannical disconnect between critical opinion and audience reaction regarding the new Sasha Baron Cohen movie “The Dictator”. Though it obviously wasn’t going to be on par with the organic and cutting edge “Borat”, “The Dictator” is a far departure from the stale and contrived “Bruno.” Despite the Rotten Tomatoes rating, (recently fudged for a barely negative rating of 59%), and raves from established critics the audience don’t seem to be impressed based on the low CinemaScore that the film has generated, (a bad “C” grade), and the underwhelming box office so far places it just above $40 million.
Is the negative reaction a sign that the audience has given up on Sasha Baron Cohen? I doubt it. There’s always a market for his style of sophomoric humor with physical comedy and full frontal nudity. Not only that but Cohen showed promise playing against the stereotype in the magical “Hugo” and it’d more than likely that Americans just don’t want to think about serious world issues. Especially during an election year. “The Dictator” seems to be a victim of a fickle public not wanting to watch an “issues” movie with added humor.
A similar thing happened a couple Presidential Election cycles back in 2004 when “Team America: World Police” turned off many people. With the exception of a very cynical fraternity brother, I remember hearing people complain about ‘Team America” as being “stupid” and “Too offensive”. Despite mainstream audiences apparent dislike for Team America, it managed to gain a cult following years later as a quoted, referenced and was mentioned in numerous pop culture circles. Coincidentally “The Dictator” is the funniest, most profane, politically charged, non-partisan comedy since… well, “Team America: World Police”. Sure, in Team America we witnessed the outrageous puppet sex but there was a deeper meaning to the dirty jokes. The parallels with both films are similar: out of control right-wingers and hypocritical liberals.
“The Dictator” takes pot shots at both the left and the right. Cohen plays a bigot portrays both anti-Semitism and sexism for big laughs. Anna Farris plays a human rights protester who delivers a walking stereotype of the inclusive vegan, gluten free progressive elitists. Many of the witty humor focuses on her naive nature. A different, yet funny, scene,which highlights American ignorance and prejudice was when tourists freak out over a misunderstood conversation on a helicopter tour between two Arab men. The highlight of the entire film comes at the closing when Sasha Baron Cohen rants that America wont tolerate a dictatorship only to brilliantly describe the current political/corporate climate of the 21st century United States. Unfortunately this is the type of humor which turned people off.
“The Dictator” is the kind of witty comedy I love which is chock full of social commentary and pop culture jokes. The general public typically isn’t too keen on this kind of humor. Its goes against “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” conventional formula that makes Hollywood money. Just continue to feed the mass public jokes about ‘dicks’ and ‘tits,’ I guess.