Sunday, October 28, 2012

Found in America

Aladeen explains the fine points of the Bill of Rights to a NYC policeman
You knew as you were watching Sasha Baron Cohen's film Borat that, like Daffy Duck blowing himself up, it was a one-time only performance.  The film's very popularity would make it impossible for Cohen to slip invisibly into another identity with which to trap and trick people.

It turned out to both true and not, as people have short memories and Cohen has a very adaptable face.  Still he is never going to take America by surprise quite the same way again.  So he can hardly be faulted for taking the scripted route to pursue many of Borat's themes and tropes again in The Dictator (2012)   He can be faulted for adopting the hoary old substitute-the-double-for-the-king plot that goes back at least to The Prisoner of Zenda and never seems to stop being reworked.  You'd think monarchies would have the good sense by now to seek out all the perfect doubles that seem to riddle the earth and have them done away with to avoid problems.

Three other observations.  The female lead played by Anna Faris claims to have attended Amherst College.  This is impossible because (a) she is wearing the Mt. Holyoke College uniform (basically grunge drag) and (b) she pronounces the name of her school "Am-hhurst."  Even those who attend U Mass are aware that the "h" is not pronounced.

Second, what is there about comedies about dictators which calls for a speech late in the third act?  Chaplin's Great Dictator speech is (rightly) criticized for being overlong and unfocused.  Cohen avoids such problems and goes straight for the jugular.  Yet, though this is the sharpest humor in the film, it seems to go unnoticed amid the slapstick and buffoonery.

By definition the film can't be as outrageous as Borat but it almost makes up for it by incorporating a large cohort of sketch and stand-up comics, probably the contribution of director Larry Charles, who is more likely to be plugged into American comedy circles.  Aasif Mandavi, Rizwan Manji, Horatio Sanz, Chris Parnell, Jessica St. Clair, Chris Gethard, Fred Armisen, Chris Elliot, Jon Glaser, Bobby Lee, Joey Slotnick, J.B. Smoove, Kathryn Hahn, Seth Morris, Nasim Pedrad, Ed Norton, B.J. Novak, Jim Piddock, John C. Reilly and Gary Shandling all have walk-ins and sometimes quite a bit more in this film.

It really suggests that what Cohen and Charles should be reworking instead of Zenda is an all-star comedy extravaganza along the lines of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

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