The Dictator

By Jared Young

Mailed on May 15, 2012

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Dear Mark Behar
Sacha Baron Cohen's Personal Bodyguard

Dear Mark,

Were you ever worried? Was there ever a sense that you had put yourself in mortal danger by agreeing to provide personal security for a rabble-rousing comedian famous for invading the most unlikely American places with his unsettling European pansexuality? When you took the gig on his new film, The Dictator, you surely knew he was setting his sights on fanatical Middle Eastern despots. Instant fatwa, right?

The paper-thin premise of the film involves a body double, an assassination attempt, and several Inception-like layers of mistaken identity. So, tell me: how many layers of Kevlar did you wear to the set every day? How often did you practice that heroic bullet-thwarting dive? How many lurking paparazzi did you mistake for assassins and cripple with a throat-crushing judo chop?

I'm guessing zero.

You know how I know that?

Mark, I swear I'm not one of those types easily offended by the sort of humor Baron Cohen is famous for. I know that being offended is the whole point, and, by giving in, you cease to be a member of the audience and become, instead, the butt of the joke--but the sort of casual xenophobia he and collaborator Larry Charles have so effectively commoditized only works when it operates in the service of a larger idea. And that's what's missing in The Dictator.

Maybe it's because this is their first wholly fictional film (though there's a bit of cinema verite in the middle act, in which the titular dictator, deposed and stranded in New York City, wanders through midtown harassing passersby and police). The great subversive thrust of the Borat and Bruno characters wasn't the outrageous things they said; it was the way people reacted to them. In those interactions was revealed the great truth that, for all our world-leading ambitions, the West can be just as provincial as anywhere else. Here, Baron Cohen's bigotries are shouted into the emptiness. There's no one there to answer.

And that, Mark, is how I know you were never afraid for your life--because Baron Cohen's fumbling Admiral General isn't clever enough to outrage anyone. The comedic atrocities he commits are minor in both scope and wit. And they're guilty, as well, of a far worse crime: being forgettable. In the end, your gig as a production assistant on Bridesmaids was probably more fraught with danger. At least you ran the risk of laughing yourself into an asthmatic fit.

Wishing you continued health and happiness,

Jared Young

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