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Entries in anna faris (2)

Tuesday
May152012

The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to the absurd. After three progressively ridiculous films, Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Bruno, all of which were based on characters from his HBO program, Da Ali G Show, it’s clear the man has no limit. He’ll go anywhere and everywhere if it means he’ll get a laugh, even if that means pushing the boundaries beyond what many would deem tasteful. What those people fail to see, however, is the biting satire hiding beneath its immature and offensive veneer. His show as well as his films (Ali G Indahouse notwithstanding) have displayed unimaginable examples of racism, homophobia, religious bigotry and more through a mockumentary style where the camera is turned on us, exposing the more hateful thoughts some of us manage to disgracefully conjure up. His latest film, The Dictator, abandons that mockumentary style and, transitively, much of its satirical bite. Save for a few inspired moments, The Dictator is more absurd comedy than social commentary, but it’s one that is undeniably funny, right on par with 21 Jump Street as the funniest movie of the year.

The tagline for The Dictator reads as such: “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” If you find humor in that sentence, this movie is right up your alley—no further convincing should be needed—but I’ll continue on for those who want a bit more background. Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. He’s in the process of creating nuclear weapons, which the United Nations isn’t too happy about. In response, they demand he address them regarding his plans for the weapons, so he heads off to America. However, his backstabbing advisor, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has plans of his own and orders to have him killed. After escaping his seemingly inevitable death (now without a beard—his single most defining trait), he learns of a double being used to eventually sign a constitution that will bring democracy to Wadiya. He can’t let that happen, so he begins working at a hippie, left wing shop run by a feminist named Zoey (Anna Faris) that is catering the event in the hopes of infiltrating it, taking back his rightful place as dictator and assuring his people don’t receive democratic freedom.

It’s understandable to bring some hesitance into a viewing of The Dictator. One of the main reasons Baron Cohen’s two best films are so good is due to their approach. They followed only the most thinly mapped out stories and allowed the comedy to surface not so much based on Cohen’s presence, but more so on the reaction of the unwitting participants to what he was actually doing. The same can be said for the satire, as shocking and disgusting as some of it may have been. By throwing himself into precarious situations that yielded interesting (and sometimes dangerous) results, Cohen was able to point out flaws in our actions and beliefs. Leaving all that behind could have led to a movie that felt too safe, one that stuck too closely to a script and didn’t allow his sensational improvisational skills to shine, but such is not the case. The Dictator doesn’t necessarily feel scripted—the string of events in this movie are so bizarre, they feel more like random happenstances—and the ad-libbing remains intact. The narrative dialogue that must be said for the story to progress is never prominent enough to overshadow some of the film’s on-the-spot vocal concoctions.

Whether Admiral General Aladeen is learning the joys of self pleasure or giving a speech about what’s possible in a dictatorship, (of which all were done in the democratic America), the end result is almost always hilarious. What disappoints the most about The Dictator isn’t that the expected commentary isn’t there, but rather that it tries to be there, but isn’t fleshed out enough to work. It occasionally brings forth the wretchedness of many people’s discriminatory behavior, but those themes were explored more thoughtfully in his previous films. Although a spoof on dictators and dictatorships in general, it too fails to make any real point about them, instead only pointing out the obvious, like the superiority complexes that can rightfully be assigned to any dictator. Not every movie has to include an enlightening take on a particular subject—leaving it out is just fine if you have a technical prowess behind the production—but including it and failing is something worth addressing. That unfortunately happens here.

Still, The Dictator delivers on the laughs so frequently that you don’t miss the commentary that was featured so prominently in Borat and Bruno. Sacha Baron Cohen is once again fearless with his performance, proving he’s a force to be reckoned with in the comedic world and the soundtrack, which is full of Middle Eastern renditions of popular American songs like Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” is so offensive you can’t help but laugh at it. I may never look at Forrest Gump the same way ever again, but that’s a small price to pay to laugh as much as I did while watching The Dictator.

The Dictator receives 4/5

Friday
Sep302011

What's Your Number?

If there’s one thing that can be said about Anna Faris, it’s that she has no problem putting herself out there. She will make herself look like the biggest idiot in the world if it means she’ll get a laugh. Sometimes, her effort isn’t worthy of the movie she’s in (which is often the case given her less than impressive filmography), but one can’t help but applaud her. Her willingness to be stupid only shows how smart she is. Her latest, What’s Your Number?, subdues her a bit—the crazy antics she pulled in the Scary Movie films are nowhere to be found—but it allows her to stretch. She actually has to act this time and she pulls it off with her excellent comedic timing intact, even if, yet again, her movie is a lousy one.

Ally (Faris) is kind of a slut, but she doesn’t know it yet. She has slept with 19 guys, a number she thinks is normal, despite her girly magazine stating the average for women is 10.5. Later, at her sister’s bachelorette party, she discovers she has had by far the most sexual experiences of any girl in the group. She is then told, without any evidence to back it up, that women who have had over 20 sexual partners are significantly less likely to marry. Scared, she vows to not have sex with another guy until she knows he’s the one, which she promptly breaks that night after getting drunk. As a last ditch effort, she enlists the hunky Colin (Chris Evans), who lives across the hall from her and has a knack for tracking people down, to find her old sexual partners in the hope that sparks will fly and she will end up with one of them, keeping her number at 20.

What’s Your Number? hits its target. It sets out to do something and it does it. The problem is it’s aiming low and relies on every single romantic comedy cliché to push it forward. It’s overlong, closer to 2 hours than an hour and a half, and boy, do you feel every single minute. Did it really need all that time to reach its obvious and inevitable conclusion? The ending in question, to be fair, is uncouth and zany in all the right ways—it keeps the comedy flowing—but it doesn’t change the fact that what it’s doing is unoriginal.

It’s an ending everyone will be able to see coming from the moment Ally and Colin meet, so what the film needs to do is make the journey there worthwhile, but it lacks an interesting story to tell and the humor is spotty at best. Per usual, there’s a break-up between the two lovebirds to make their eventual reconciliation all the sweeter, but the writing neglected to give them a solid reason to do so. The break-up stems from a man named Jake, who, up to that point, hadn’t even been introduced into the film. It’s forced, contrived and the scene is so badly acted by the two leads, it actually ends up providing the movie’s biggest laughs, unintentional though they may be.

But you won’t care. Chances are you’ll be happy Ally has dropped Colin because, frankly, he’s not a good person. He’s the type of guy most self-respecting guys hate. He sleeps with a new girl every night, wakes up the next morning, lies about having an appointment to get to and then sneaks over to Ally’s apartment until they leave. Those poor girls are lucky if he even remembers their name.

The main characters may not be the best in the world, but there are some great cameos by a number of notable actors to keep your interest from totally waning, including Andy Samberg, Aziz Ansari, Thomas Lennon and Anthony Mackie, but the moments spent with them are few and far between. What little effective humor this film has isn’t nearly enough to make up for the fact that it’s yet another tired, formulaic rom-com. I couldn’t even remember the title going in, but its derivativeness promises I’ll soon forget having ever watched What’s Your Number?

What’s Your Number? receives 1.5/5