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Broken rules; Cohen falls short in a tribute to fallen dictator

Please remember, if you would, the edition of the MTV Movie Awards in which Sacha Baron Cohen clad only in the tiniest jockstrap on the West Coast -- was lowered headfirst from the ceiling into the lap of Eminem. Just when the near-naked business end of Cohen's nether parts approached Eminem's supposedly disgusted face, the temperamental rapper pretended to bolt out of the auditorium in furious horror.

It was awfully funny. It took Eminem a lovely interval of time, too, to admit that, yes, he was very much in on the gag.

Pity Cohen. He can still be, when the occasion is just right and all the planets are aligned in his favor, one of the funniest comic minds around.

Didn't he, after all, make the funniest and most subversive comedy of the past decade "Borat?" I'd gladly trade the audacity of that rodeo scene -- in which the simple, unabashedly bigoted fictional inquirer from Kazakstan baits a very real rodeo audience in a way that could well have resulted in him being turned into cow chips -- for most of the megaplex hits of Judd Apatow (and all of the Apatow turkeys).

But that was it for Cohen at the movies. He's still capable of wonderful moments of guerrilla comedy at overhyped TV moments (imagine, if you would, a mischievous Cohen footloose and fancy free at the Super Bowl). His post-"Borat" movies, though, have proved that "Borat" was something you can only do once. He can't take the world by surprise anymore which is why "Bruno" was so much less than "Borat" (however funny on its own).

"The Dictator" is so much less that it isn't really good at all. It's straightforward, scripted comedy. To be entirely honest, I laughed at some of it. And sat dumbfounded at the awfulness of most of it. In fact, I kept wondering what another guerrilla comic could do suddenly invading Cohen's "Dictator" movie set and wreaking havoc on Cohen's prepared material.

A couple of young guys in my row laughed crazily all the way through -- so inappropriately that their blockheadedness would have made a wonderful scene in "Borat."

In a movie lovingly dedicated to Kim Jong Il, Cohen plays the dictator of the "rogue North African nation of Wadiya," a world leader awash on a sea of oil who thinks he can have anyone he wants executed by just making a hand-slice motion across his windpipe to his minions (actually they're all repatriated to New York). He is so cocooned in power by his No. 2 (Ben Kingsley playing the corrupt and bitter rightful heir replaced at the last minute) that his purchased bed partners cover a whole wall of Polaroid snaps.

On a visit to New York, his corrupt No. 2 makes his move to sell all his nation's oil to the world's real powers, including China, whose representative has a hilariously semi-slanderous relationship with America's more macho movie stars (Tommy Lee Jones, Harvey Keitel and, in an actual Eminem-like appearance, a drolly abashed Edward Norton).

Comic misses fatally outnumber the hits.




2 stars (out of 4)    

STARRING: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, John C. Reilly    

DIRECTOR: Larry Charles    

RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes    

RATING: R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images.    

THE LOWDOWN: A dictator of a mythical North African nation is on the run in New York City.