Mini-Reviews: Battleship and The Dictator


Films set on the ocean are defined by waiting. Boats travel slowly. They turn slowly. Missiles and torpedos approach their destination slowly. You wait for impact, you wait to see if the ship or sub will hold, you wait for attack, you wait for food, you wait for land. Unless the characters leave the boat or there are a series of swashbuckling pirate attacks, your ocean film cannot be exciting the way a typical action film is– it can be a tense psychological thriller, but not a whizbang roller coaster ride. Peter Berg’s Battleship is a boring film in an exciting film’s clothes: it has CGI and explosions, but it also has dull characters waiting dully for dull things to happen. Battleship could’ve been awesome if it embraced silliness, but it tried to be… good. *shudder*

After four lengthy sequences proving to us that Taylor Kitsch’s character is a talented screw up with huge potential if he’d just grow up (punctuated by speeches from various actors explaining this aloud to Kitsch four times), we get to the ships. While having the alien missiles look like the pegs from the board game is a nice touch, the sad reality is very little happens. The studio spent countless money on showing an attack or two on land– both of which steal heavily from the Transformers films– but no characters of note reside there. The characters are all… waiting. They force the game’s grid into the plot in an exceptionally boring scene, and they manipulate the emotions of the audience by introducing real vets into the battle, who literally pop up during an inspirational moment on a battleship out of nowhere like the Munchkins emerging from the bushes in Munchkinland. Since I have undying respect for the troops, I’ll forgive the ones who were conned by Peter Berg to degrade themselves in this ineffective Navy commercial for the sole purpose of conjuring sympathy from an audience that couldn’t care less about the scripted characters.

The movie had some potential too. I still believe, with the right script, Taylor Kitsch could be a credible lead in a film. Brooklyn Decker certainly shows plenty of charm and charisma as his girlfriend– compared to most supermodels on screen, she is earnest and seemingly Midwestern. She has a good career ahead of her playing Mark Wahlberg’s wife in action films. There is an impressive continuous shot taken as a boat sinks that The Avengers’ continuous shot effectively rendered pointless, but nevertheless serves as a high mark for the film’s visual competence. Finally, a sensational moment that reveals what Battleship could have been: a legless war veteran punches a CGI alien so hard that its teeth fly out. It’s a surreal and preposterous moment, but it’s also thoroughly memorable and fun. When the rest of the movie disappears from memory, that will remain. It wanted so badly to be a good action movie, but it was doomed from inception. In one scene, some actors work hard to move a thousand-pound shell across the boat, so the camera spins and the music blares in a vain attempt to disguise the fact that grown men moving extremely slowly cannot be and never will be exciting. It serves as a nice moment symbolic of the film on the whole.

The Dictator:

After the blissful Borat and the horrendous Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen makes his first foray into non-mockumentary filmmaking with The Dictator, a film that, shockingly, follows a foreigner’s travels to America, where the culture differences astound everyone. Sacha Baron Cohen hopes to both shock audiences with envelope-pushing humor and satirize some of America’s many flaws and hypocrisies. The key difference between Borat and Bruno was the satire– Borat was a focused film with a specific satirical target (xenophobia), whereas Bruno was all over the place to the point where, as you watch a penis twirl like a helicopter blade on the camera, you wonder if Borat was as focused as you remember it. The Dictator has more focus (it covers much of the same ground as Borat), but it still undercuts its own intelligence with easy witless shock humor– for every hysterical sequence, there are two that are head-shakingly facile.

A North African dictator (Cohen) goes to the UN to explain himself in order to avoid a full-blown invasion of his dictatorial regime. While there, his #2 (Ben Kingsley) plots his murder– his trademark beard is removed, but he escapes otherwise unharmed. However, since this is America, nobody recognizes a foreigner without a beard, so now the dictator is just another immigrant without papers. A hippie girl (Anna Faris) gives him work as he plans to reveal to the world the plot against him. Meanwhile, he learns how to love blah blah blah– look, outside of the fact that the main character is genocidal, it’s pretty standard stuff. It even ends with a big speech from the main character about what he’s learned, albeit a very funny speech in which America is unknowingly compared to a dictatorship.

The satirical stuff in the film works wonders. A terrific sequence in a helicopter with American tourists listening to scary-sounding Arabic with a few English words taken out of context is funny– they talk about wanting to see the fireworks above Yankee Stadium, but all they hear is Yankee Stadium and explosion noises. A birth in the back of a store, in which a ruthless dictator has to deliver a very understanding hippie couple’s baby, also provides some great one-liners and moments (not to mention the best vagina-cam since Talk To Her). The best bit of shock humor involves a specialty made Nintendo Wii game for dictators in which you’re at the Munich Olympics killing Jews. However, most of the shock humor involves the dictator calling people names– he refers to black people as “sub-Saharans” and Anna Faris’ character as a hairy lesbian or a boy more times than I could count. There are also the pre-requisite penis jokes, weird sex jokes, etc… if Cohen and director Larry Charles could ditch the easy stuff and go for a straight satire, there’s potential for brilliance there. However, the temptations for going broad are too strong, and at this point, Cohen may not have any more fresh foreigners-are-weird! comedy left in him. It’s a vast improvement over Bruno… but The Dictator never becomes merciless. It’s a hit-and-miss affair.

~ by russellhainline on May 23, 2012.

2 Responses to “Mini-Reviews: Battleship and The Dictator”

  1. Battleship looked terrible. When the night came for the screening I just couldn’t subject myself to something I had heard was bad from so many people. I’ll probably watch it at some point, but not anytime soon. I’ve never been a big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen, so I was hesitant to see The Dictator as well. I agree that when he goes for satire in his films he’s brilliant, although his obvious, gross-out humor detracts from the product as a whole.

  2. Saw Battleship and wasn’t A fan swell, But I did find the dictator incredibly funny.

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