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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: The Dictator

September 3rd, 2012

The Dictator - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles have made a career of making semi-improvised movies based around one of Sacha's many personas. However, while Borat was a huge surprise hit, Brüno missed expectations and The Dictator was even weaker at the box office, at least domestically. Has the quality of the films also dropped? Or did he just over-saturate the market?

The Movie

At first we are introduced to the nation of Wadiya, which is a military dictatorship ruled by Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen. Aladeen has been working on obtaining nuclear weapons, but the program was setback when he had his previous Head of Nuclear Research, "Nuclear" Nadal executed. He executes a lot of people for the craziest of reasons. Aladeen's Uncle, Tamir, wants to tell the U.N. that they have no nuclear weapons, so that the U.N. will lift the sanctions and sell oil. However, Aladeen remains defiant, even when he's summoned to the U.N. to speak as a last minute attempt to avoid war.

After an assassination attempt at home, Uncle Tamir decides it would be wise to hire extra security for Admiral Aladeen's trip to New York. The man he hires is Mr. Clayton. Mr. Clayton is as bigoted as Aladeen, and against mostly the same people (gays, Jews, etc.), but he swears to protect Aladeen while he's there. It's a lie. He was actually hired to kidnap and kill Aladeen. Fortunately for Aladeen, between the kidnapping and the murder, something goes terribly wrong for Mr. Clayton and Aladeen is able to escape, at least most of him is able to escape. (His righteous beard was removed, to make the body unidentifiable.)

Now Aladeen is left wandering the streets of New York, without any money or identification. He does make it to the U.N. in time to do his speech, but that's when he sees Uncle Tamir riding in a limo with his body double. It is then he realizes Uncle Tamir must have been the one to hire Clayton to assassinate him. He begins to shout that the guy in the limo isn't the legitimate ruler of Wadiya. The other protestors there think he's a regular guy and join in on his chants. One of those protestors, Zoey, is especially interested in what he has to say. The body-double speaks in front of the General Assembly and says he will change Wadiya to a democracy. This seems like great news for the country, but we later learn that Tamir is not doing this to make Wadiya a better place, but to profit off the sale of the massive oil reserves in Wadiya. Aladeen becomes so agitated by the news of democracy coming to his native country that he attacks the U.N. gates, setting off a massive protest. Zoey sees this, but doesn't realize he was protesting against democracy and helps him get away from the police.

Zoey runs Free Earth Collective, a ... let me turn on the captions so I get it right ... vegan, feminist, non-profit cooperative operating within an anti-racist, anti-oppressive framework for people of all or no genders. She offers Aladeen a job, if he can be less offensive. He decides to find a better offer. While contemplating his predicament, he spots Nadal and follows him to the "Death to Aladeen Restaurant", a spot were all of the Wadiyan dissidents hang out. Once there, he begins to recognize everyone there as someone he once had executed, while they all sort of recognize him. Without the beard, he's nearly unrecognizable. Nearly. When Aladeen is recognized, Nadal is the one who comes to his rescue. Nadal makes a deal, he will help Aladeen regain power in Wadiya, if he can return as the Head of Nuclear Research and finish his bomb.

In order to prevent Tamir from turning Wadiya into a "democracy" / puppet to the oil companies, Aladeen must get close enough to switch with his double. In order to do that, he will need a security card. That's where Zoey comes in. She will be providing the catering for the event, and if he can accept her job offer, he will be able to get the security pass. But will working with Zoey change Aladeen?

The Dictator is the fourth film by Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles to fall under a similar style as Borat. However, this film has the most plot. I'm not sure this is a real asset. The confines of the plot actually hurt the energy of the best scenes of the movie. When the film concentrates on the satire and Aladeen's crazy world, the film works and it is nearly as funny as the best stuff in Borat. When it gets into the more plot intensive parts involving the power struggle between Aladeen and Tamir and Nadal trying to get back into his position of power in Wadiya, it doesn't have the same energy, but the three actors do have good chemistry together. On the other hand, the romance between Aladeen and Zoey just does not work at all. I don't know who thought a dark political satire needed a cliché romantic comedy crammed into it, but they were wrong. I really like Anna Faris and I thinks she's incredibly funny, but she needs to find projects that are better suited to showcasing her talents.

Overall, enough of The Dictator works that it is worth watching if you are a fan of Borat, but enough fails that the replay value is quite a bit lower.

The Extras

The DVD comes with 37 minutes of deleted / extended / alternative scenes, including the full interview with Larry King, which is in a separate section. There is also a music video. The total running time is not bad, but weak for a first-run release. There is nothing exclusive on the Blu-ray, but the Blu-ray does come with both the theatrical version and the extended version. For a film that cost more than $100 million to make ($100 million? Really?) the video is not very impressive. It's good throughout the film's running time with a high level of details, strong colors, deep blacks, while there are no signs of compression issues or digital manipulation. There's nothing really wrong with the video, but it is not showy either. Likewise, the audio is good with clear dialogue, good separation and good use of the surround sound speakers during the scenes on the crowded streets. However, the overall audio track is not complicated.

The Blu-ray closes $20, which is only $5 or 33% more than the DVD. That's not a bad deal.

The Verdict

I would call The Dictator a solid rental. Enough works that most people watching will laugh from time to time, but enough fails to hit its mark that the replay value is too low to be worth buying. Likewise, the extras on the DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack are good, but not good enough to lift it past a rental.

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