Take note: Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator may well be the most important film of the year.
This is a bad thing. The film is vile, obscene, juvenile, manipulative, misogynistic and racist. Its intentional offensiveness legitimizes hate speech as a form of cheap humor. Its mechanism is degradation and humiliation of "the other"–people of other races, genders, colors, religions or beliefs. It's cleverly (but clumsily) structured to push the pleasure-seeking buttons of its intended audience, which primarily consists of two niche strands: pre-pubescent boys and adults seeking temporary refuge from the vitriol of Fox News. If you don't fit either demographic, there isn't much that's funny about The Dictator.
Baron Cohen is a relentless self-promoter. At Cannes this year, he nearly fell off a camel while riding down the Croisette during a publicity stunt. Even repeating this stupid story, of course, helps fuel the offensive entertainment empire Cohen's been building with his recent masterpieces, Borat and Bruno, the main targets of which were Kazakhstan and gays, respectively.
Dictators are fair game for filmic depiction or satire–just look at Chaplin's The Great Dictator, Barbet Schroeder's Idi Amin Dada or The Last King of Scotland. But this film trades in every imaginable stereotype in its depictions of so-called "A-rabs," with their gilded city in the middle of the oil-pumping desert, and says nothing about political power and its corruption. It’s a cynical, didactic and evil piece of pop culture which, sadly enough, is estimated to earn more than $260 million.
In the paranoid, isolationist worldview it clearly engenders, Arabs (and by implication, Muslims) are out to destroy Israel and the U.S. and are terrorists at heart. It’s a viewpoint hardly constructive in moving the world toward peace.
Also: Should the eight- or ten-year-old boys viewing the film (with, one presumes, their parents) at a screening I attended really watch a scene of someone searching for a cell phone inside the vagina of a woman who recently gave birth? I doubt you can legitimately write this off as sex education.
And if that weren’t enough: The Dictator also has some of the worst acting in a film of recent memory.