There were a lot of publicity stunts used to promote The Dictator, which made it apparent very early that people just didn’t care that much about this movie. General Aladeen is not going to be the 2012’s omnipresent Borat. And the lousy box office projections reflect this. The only thing that might have saved it was if it was so good that overwhelming critical fawning overshadowed all the negative opinion. So what did the critics have to say?
Just for some context, Borat was as much of critical smash as it was a box office one, garnering a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and 89 on Metacritic. Bruno faired much worse, clocking in at 67% on RT and 54 at MC. The Dictator is currently at 63% and 59 at those respective sites, which is OK but probably not good enough.
From reading the reviews there tends to be two reactions:
1) Tempered enjoyment. No one loved this movie but some took consolation in that it was at least funnier than it was not funny. The AVClub described the movie as a “general fusillade of hit-or-miss jokes that hit at a better-than-average rate.” This was the most positive review of the movie and “better-than-average” is the best it can do. Or there was the at-least-it-was-something compliment by the St. Louis Today, “Too short and undisciplined to be a world-class comedy, but its chutzpah deserves respect.” Other reviewers found this shortness – the film clocks in at 83 minutes – to be the film’s most redeemable quality. However, like when Roger Ebert comments that Sacha Baron Cohen “wisely gets in, gets his laughs, and quits. The movie, like Bruno, falls short of 90 minutes, in an era where too many comedies run on relentlessly,” the compliment seems to say more about other popular comedies than anything particularly nice about The Dictator. The sense is if you’ve found Cohen funny before, you’ll still enjoy moments of the film and it will come down to the individual to determine if those moments are enough.
2) Boredom. Despite its apparent attempts at doing so, no one was shocked and appalled by The Dictator and that was the problem. The unimpressed critics found both the satirical and farcical elements of the film tame. Slate’s Dana Stevens: “Most of The Dictator had me neither laughing nor shocked, but just staring at the screen in anxious is-that-all-there-is? silence.” Even worse was the Times’ A.O. Scott, who argued the film “gestures halfheartedly toward topicality and, with equal lack of conviction, toward pure, anarchic silliness. All of which would be fine if the jokes were better. There are a few good ones, but many more that feel half-baked and rehashed.” The sense is the film wanted to seem outlandish without actually being so and have a message without really having one.
Generally, everyone agrees there are very funny moments but it just doesn’t have the danger, spark, intangibles of Borat. What do you think? Are you going to go see it?