The Dictator * * *
Cert 15, 83 mins
Where would the world be if we were unable to use comedy to bring down barriers?
Perhaps we’d all be at each other’s throats – and unwilling to listen to second opinions.
Or unable to make the free choice to hand over our hard-earned cash to watch Sacha Baron Cohen using a Wii video game to gun down Israeli athletes.
After branching out with a one-dimensional railway platform role in Hugo – and possibly costing Martin Scorsese from winning this year’s best picture Oscar – Cohen is back in tandem with his regular director Larry Charles.
They gave us Borat (2006) and the less entertaining Brüno (2009).
Now we’re in Bin Laden / Gaddafi territory with the leader of The Republic of Wadiya eager to enrich uranium for... medical purposes.
Cohen’s latest character General Admiral Aladeen rules his North African state with an iron fist.
But he’s also given the chance to make a speech in New York where a goat-herding body-with-beard double will reduce the chances of his assassination.
Playing brother Tamir is fellow Hugo star Sir Ben Kingsley, the usually very serious Oscar-winning thesp with whom he shares an uncomfortably big kiss on the lips.
Even if some of the attempts at humour are as weak and bolted on as it was in those recent Pink Panther movies with Steve Martin, no subject is considered off limits for comedy here, from George Clooney’s sexuality to rape and chopping off heads.
Whether he’s losing his phone inside a woman trying to give birth in a store, making fun of people undergoing chemotherapy or splattering his naked midriff against a window, Cohen makes full use of his right to challenge our senses.
And, with Aladeen losing his beard, finding out about normal life in a Brooklyn food store with hairy armpit characters like Zoey (Anna Faris).
On any given night in a busy cinema, a sympathetic audience might carry much of this film along on a rollercoaster carpet ride of hoots, groans and moans.
Studied in the relative isolation of a scarcely-attended early morning public screening, the problem with The Dictator is that there’s just too much tire in the satire.
Cohen makes some fine points, like illustrating how a ‘Devil’s nest’ like the US could concentrate most of the country’s wealth in the hands of just one per cent of the population if only it had a leader like Aladeen.
And there’s no little truth in questions like: ‘Are you having a boy or an abortion?’ or observations that the US was ‘built by blacks and is owned by the Chinese’.
But with too many of the ‘gags’ he seems to be more concerned about offering bad taste than making us think.
The Raid * * *
Cert 18, 101 mins
I wouldn’t say this film was relentlessly ultra-violent with a visceral intensity bordering on insanity – but it did make me want to see Jason Statham’s Safe again just to make me feel like I was relaxing safely in front of Watch With Mother.
All this from the mind of a little-known Welsh film director who hasn’t so much delivered his calling card with a steel-capped miner’s boot but the equivalent of a hand-held, triple-barrelled Sherman tank.
Originally from Hirwaun in the Cynon Valley, Evans took an MA in Scriptwriting at the University of Glamorgan’s Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries. Off he then went to try his luck in Indonesia. The Raid is his third film and its characters like Mad Dog – choreographer Yayan Ruhian looking like the late rock star Ronnie James Dio going off on one in a Hulk-style, martial arts meltdown – will hit you between both eyes like a thunderbolt.
You would never know the movie has apparently cost little more than £1 million, such is the carefully cultivated blend of shaky-cam, wide-angle and one-take sequences which challenge the way that carbon copy criminals have literally been shot on screen in the past. Here, a heavily-armed Jakarta SWAT team has arrived at a 15-storey tenement block fortress.
The seemingly decent Rama (Iko Uwais) is among those charged with extracting Mr Big from the top of the monolithic mousetrap.
En route to drug kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy), they meet all manner of his acolytes who are either armed and/or simply dangerous. Very dangerous.
Throughout the running (and jumping) time, the increasingly contrived action gets more violent, more intense and more outrageous.
But for those of us who want something more than dazzling action and an uncomfortable degree of bone-crunching stunts and killings, Evans loses the plot. Some of the fisticuffs seem to go on for ever and I’m not sure that even with this degree of martial arts’ training the human skull is capable of surviving so many brutal attacks. I simply felt increasingly sickened at the disappointing realisation that, yes, it really is possible to have too much action and violence in one movie for it to remain an entertainingly escapist form of relaxation.
2 Days In New York * * *
Cert 15, 96 mins
I’ve never had motormouth Chris Rock down as being even a half-decent actor before now – keeping him off-screen as Marty the New York zebra in the animated film Madagascar was a masterstroke.
Here, Rock is given the chance to be relatively serious with a comedy touch in this lively sequel to writer-director Julie Delpy’s 2007 film, 2 Days In Paris.
True, his relationship with the blonde actress might not exactly be likely to push up of sales of chocolates on the concessions stand, but then how often does Hollywood ever even dare to offer this degree of black male with white female?
Armed with a chin beard and thick black glasses which almost look stolen from The Two Ronnies’ collection, he’s closer to a cross between Spike Lee and Denzel Washington than standard Chris Rock.
Flitting between French and English and rapidly-edited Big Apple snapshots, 2 Days In New York features Delpy’s character Marion on the eve of her biggest photography exhibition to date.
The arrival of her family – including oversexed sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and her pot-smoking partner Manu (Alex Nahon), plus Delpy’s real-life father Albert Delpy as Jeannot – adds chaos to a mix that can best be described as Woody Allen lite.
Now split up from Jack (the unseen Adam Goldberg), Marion lives in Manhattan with her unfortunately-named young son Lulu (Owen Shipman), who refers to Rock’s DJ Mingus character as “fake daddy”.
Marion wonders if she can possibly commit herself to spending her life with just one more man when either partner will end up alone if the other dies.
Delpy’s overall message is to enjoy ‘ephemeral moments’. So if you enjoy films in which adults simply talk a lot, 2 Days will feel like a breath fresh air amid the current crop of releases.
Piranha 3DD *
Cert 18, 83 mins
Even if you have to reluctantly admire The Raid’s technical bravura though almost closed fingers, there’s nothing about Piranha 3DD which makes it remotely worth seeing. Not when a 3D ticket can cost you £9.50 plus 80p for glasses.
This film plumbs new depths in an Arizona water park sequel to Alexandre Aja’s 2010 remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 flesh-eating original. It’s sad to see Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd reduced to being so unfunny and unscientific.
Less so the fact that former Baywatch star David Hasselhoff runs bare-chested alongside a pool before complaining how unfit he is. He had it coming.
The Hoff once had a chest rug that the Persians would have been proud to have woven, but he’ll never deliver retro ‘Welcome to rock bottom’ lines like Robert De Niro.
The visual effects are poor and the double D of the title? Think of it a as a new exam mark and you’ll be guilty of being over-optimistic.