By now, viewers who’ve been following Sacha Baron Cohen’s career over the past decade probably have a feel for his newest, The Dictator, sight unseen. Admiral General Aladeen — perhaps you’ve seen him dumping “ashes” on Ryan Seacrest, or holding the mother of Extra movie-doll Ben Lyons hostage? — as a child, with fulsome pubic hair and a glorious beard. The autocrat Olympics he stages, in which the finish line runs toward him. The first of many celebrity cameos: Megan Fox in the palace of the Mad Dog of Wadiya, hastily putting her clothes back on. (“Katy Perry said she got a diamond Rolex,” Fox says, rummaging through her blood-money sack.)
Fox’s presence is a clue that at least one thing about The Dictator is different. Baron Cohen’s newest is also his first entirely fictional film since the 2002 false start Ali G Indahouse — the one that begins with Baron Cohen’s Ali G break-dancing his way out of a hail of bullets and sort of deteriorates from there. The Dictator is not quite in that zone of B-movie unease, but it’s not Baron Cohen’s best effort, either. It’s funny, but cheap and thin and ultimately not that different than any number of other movies in which Anna Faris plays a slightly dim ingenue, albeit with way more jokes about rape and torture and 9/11. It should do fine, though probably not any better than fine.
The Dictator — Sacha Baron Cohen's "eccentric totalitarian leaders of history"–mashup satire — is in theaters next week. Which means that, just as with SBC's Borat and Brüno before it, it's time for the elaborate in-character media blitz. You may recall Admiral General Aladeen spilling Kim Jong-Il's ashes on Ryan Seacrest during the Oscars (apparently, though, they were originally destined for George Clooney). You might have caught Admiral General Aladeen on SNL this weekend, torturing Martin Scorsese. And you possibly read up about Admiral General Aladeen's press conference in New York yesterday, in which he warmly welcomed the "devils of the Zionist media." And for his next trick — well, now he's messing with Robert Mugabe.
Look: Peyton Manning killed it on SNL in 2007, especially with the United Way sketch, during which he slammed kids with footballs and punished one little boy by sentencing him to 20 minutes in a Port-O-Let. I wouldn’t have wanted to follow that act, and neither, for some time, did Eli Manning. Professional sports and sketch comedy are kind of like olives and alcohol: Sometimes you get a dry martini; other times you get a salty, piquant kumquat margarita with horrible flotillas of blue cheese. The brothers Manning have represented themselves well across the comedy spectrum — remember the Simpsons episode “O Brother, Where Bart Thou?”? — and I’m sure basically anyone else who works for ESPN can come up with some kind of sports analogy for three people batting a thousand or the odds of a genetic pool having the dual characteristics of funny and sporty. Maybe that can be edited in. I can only come up with “it’s unlikely.” Considering those odds, Eli Manning did a great job of soldiering through this past weekend’s only-pretty-solid episode of SNL. Peyton may have an edge in the comedy hosting game, but Eli still has double the Super Bowl championships.
In the interest of gaining closure on one of the more absurd Oscar storylines we'd been tracking, and assuming (hoping, really?) that you didn't make the mistake of tuning in to the red carpet coverage to watch Ryan Seacrest psychically discern the designer of every starlet's dress (with near 100% accuracy!), we note that Sacha Baron Cohen did, in fact, show up in full Wadiyan strongman regalia and earn the free publicity for The Dictator he and Paramount so doggedly sought. Congratulations?
And, inevitably, here's Sacha Baron Cohen's in-character response to his Oscar "ban" (if we're willing to define the word "ban" to mean "being politely asked not to show up on the red carpet in despot drag to proposition Angelina Jolie in an Wadiyan accent while swatting her with a riding crop"). God bless him for giving us something, no matter how absurd, to talk about besides how many backflips Jean Dujardin will have Uggie execute upon winning their fifth Oscar. Here's hoping he ignores the no-fun rule and causes a scene so outrageous and uncomfortable that he attempts to ride off the red carpet on Jonah Hill's back as security gives chase.
[UPDATE: The Academy has given in and will allow in-costume shenanigans. How weird that they decided extra publicity might be a good thing! But they played this totally wrong. They obviously should have staged a red carpet "crash" and surfed the buzz-waves of speculation about whether or not they were in on the stunt for days. Oh, well, back to talking about Uggie stunts on Monday.]
This morning, we mused about which Oscar attendee might become the victim of an act of promotional terrorism in which Sacha Baron Cohen, decked out in full Dictator regalia, whips off a pair of breakaway pants and rubs his autocratic posterior into the face of an unsuspecting victim, as the thought seems to be keeping Academy producers awake at night. (Meryl Streep, don't let your guard down!) But then we looked out the window of Grantland HQ to discover (well, notice, it's not like this kind of slow-revealing thing can sneak up on you) the three hundred-foot portraits being painted on the side of downtown L.A.'s Hotel Figueroa. So, yeah: Maybe we'd better worry about our own faces. His ass is coming for us.
Oscars drama! Deadline is reporting that Sacha Baron Cohen — who co-stars in Hugo, which is up for Best Picture — had his tickets to this Sunday's Academy Awards pulled. Apparently, the Academy learned Cohen was planning on arriving on the red carpet in costume as his character from his upcoming Middle Eastern autocrat satire The Dictator, and got peeved. Later in the day, facing blowback from their stodgy ways, they publicly reversed course, saying Baron Cohen was not banned from the ceremony, but that they were holding out on hooking up the tix until they got assurances he would not get dressed up for the event. As an Oscars spokesperson told Deadline, “We would hope that every studio knows that this is a bad idea. The Red Carpet is not about stunting.” (Side note: Who is this slang-literate Oscars spokesperson? Young Buck?)
Sacha Baron Cohen is currently on screen with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, but he hasn’t starred in a movie since 2009’s Bruno, the third installment in his Ali G Show character trilogy. The flick wasn’t without its merits -- it pulled in $138 million worldwide; it introduced us to the helicopter penis trick – but it never came close to the all-encompassing cultural permeation of Borat. Sensibly, then, with his next big production The Dictator, Baron Cohen has returned to that which he does best: a campy middle eastern accent! If Borat had stumbled into premiership, and was given intensive grooming and manners classes from Muammar Qaddafi, you’d have this latest crazed-rogue-dictator character. (The movie was also inspired by Zabibah and the King, an allegorical romance novel allegedly written by Saddam Hussein). It’s a perfect no-brainer concept for Baron Cohen to go H.A.M., and there’s obviously plenty of fodder to mine: in one scene, Baron Cohen pays Megan Fox for sex with a handful of jewels (“What is this, a ruby? What do I look like, a Kardashian?”); in another, he shoots people while running a competitive 100 meter dash. (And extra points must be awarded for the trailer's use of Jay-Z’s always-excellent “Beware of the Boys” remix). It might ultimately land with all the depth of an SNL-sketch-adaptation but, for now, let’s hope it’s aggressive enough to piss off Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A Jackie Robinson movie is in development at Legendary Pictures, with Chadwick Boseman playing the man himself; Harrison Ford playing Branch Rickey, the Dodgers exec that signed Robinson; and Brian Helgeland, who wrote L.A. Confidential and Mystic River, writing and directing. This is a big break for Boseman, who was previously best known for a bunch of TV cameos and the football movie The Express. It also should do wonders for Ford, who is still, sadly, best known, of course, for marrying Ally McBeal. Grade: A- [Deadline]
Paul Bettany is in talks for Showtime’s Masters of Sex, an adaptation of Thomas Maier's book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. Masters and Johnson were sixties pioneers in human sexuality research, and the show will follow their relationship as well as the cultural impact of their research. In the first episode, the origins and intricacies of the baseball/sex analogy are explored. Grade: B+ [Deadline]