Sacha Baron Cohen might make a killer movie one day. In the meantime we have "The Dictator" - a loony hodgepodge with as many outrageous laughs as really dumb moments.
In his newest incarnation,the comedian is Admiral General Aladeen, the absolute leader of the North African country of Wadiya. Unlike his previous performance characters - English rap personality Ali G, the idiot Kazakh journalist Borat, and Austrian fashionista Bruno - Baron Cohen is playing Aladeen straight, sort of.
Modeled on the likes of cruel, despicable despots like Moammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the film dictator is also pretty stupid and depends on his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) to carry out his commands.
When Aladeen is betrayed and replaced by a moronic double (also Baron Cohen) he escapes and ends up penniless and beardless on the streets of New York City. There he meets a political activist named Zoey (Anna Faris), who mistakes him for a Wadiya rebel and gives him a job at her food co-op.
That gives Baron Cohen plenty of opportunity to do shark-out-of-water jokes. Some of them are pretty hysterical, and he has a wicked satirical edge to the gags - such as wanting to dispose of a female baby. He also has a welcome anarchic sensibility, but even anarchy needs some structure in films.
Still, I loved the loopiness of "The Dictator," even if I was shaking my head at times.
Strange but true
"Bernie" is a too-silly-to-be-real crime story from Richard Linklater - only it is real. Based on a Texas Monthly article, it tells the story of a mortician in Carthage, Texas, who murders the small town's nasty old lady, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). There was no doubt of the crime.
A beloved figure, the sweet title character played by Jack Black sang in the church choir, performed in the community theater and helped everyone out. A few years before the murder, Bernie Tiede and the wealthy widow had developed a relationship, going everywhere together on her dime. Finally, when her demands drive Bernie crazy, he snaps and kills her and covers it up for a while.
It would seem an open-and-shut case, but no one in town is interested in convicting the undertaker.
Linklater has a lot of fun bringing out the absurdness of the situation as well the flavor of small-town Texas. Black captures the arrested development of Bernie, while MacLaine shows the loneliness behind Marjorie's meanness.
Matthew McConaughey adds spice as wily district attorney Danny Buck, and some film of the real Bernie is shown just to remind us this isn't made up.
Academy Award winner
The winner of this year's Oscar for best foreign film, "A Separation" - from Iran - is about a married couple at odds. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave the country with her daughter while her husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi), wants to stay so he can care for his ailing father, who has dementia. At stake is their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), and the case goes before a judge.
The film is about more than that, of course. In a country split by religion, gender, wealth and age, their dispute carries all that weight.
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, the film has an honesty and nuance to it but its restrained atmosphere can seem oppressive.
Catching up on TV
There are a number of box sets of last season's TV shows, including the swan songs of "The Closer" and "House." I always found Hugh Laurie amusing in the latter and the last year of the medical drama ended with a nice twist.
The most enjoyable of the new shows last year was ABC's "Revenge," a frothy mixture of soap, sex, violence and pretty people. The show is back Sept. 30, if you want to catch up beforehand.
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"Bernie": An assistant funeral director befriends the town's least favorite citizen. Jack Black stars.
"NCIS: The Ninth Season": Mark Harmon stars.
"The Super Hero Squad Show: Season 2, Volume 4 The Infinity Gauntlet!": Squad prepares for final battle against the Dark Surfer.
"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Season One, Volume One": Includes 30 episodes of the action series.
"NCIS: Los Angeles - The Third Season": Chris O'Donnell stars in the TV crime drama.
"A Separation": A woman must go to court over plans to leave Iran.
"Hell": The sun turns the world into a wasteland.
"Virginia": Jennifer Connelly plays a mentally ill woman.
"6 Bullets": A mercenary is the last hope for a desperate father.
"Revenge: The Complete First Season": Madeleine Stowe stars in the prime-time soap opera.
"Perry Mason: Season Seven, Volume One": Perry Mason continues to win in court.
"The Adventures of Tintin - Season Three": Includes "The Red Sea Sharks" adventures.
"Halloween 4" and "Halloween 5": Both films are on Blu-ray.
"Sweet Kill": Gym teacher (Tab Hunter) becomes a killer.
"Naked Angels": Death feud erupts between two biker gangs.
"The Complete History of the New York Giants": A look at the NFL team.
"Good Will Hunting": The 15th anniversary edition is on Blu-ray.
"House: Season Eight": Final season of the TV medical drama.
"Angelina Ballerina: Dreams Do Come True": Angelina is determined to make her dreams come true.
"Elevator": A group of people learn life has its ups and downs.
"Freelancers": Son of a slain police officer joins a team of rogue cops.
"One in the Chamber": Action thriller starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Dolph Lundgren.
© 2012 Daily News (Los Angeles)
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