Sacha Baron Cohen brings special ‘Dictator’ screening to Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV – I drove four-and-a-half hours today to see a 75 minute movie.

I regret nothing.

The 11:00 PM screening of “The Dictator” started late, but the capacity audience seemed happy about it when Sacha Baron Cohen arrived in character as General Aladeen, the dictator of the small country of Wadiya, flanked by two armed guards and some preposterously hot bodyguards.

Evidently, Cohen made a similar appearance at the Caesars Palace Colliseum during the Paramount presentation earlier in the evening.  I wasn’t there to see that, and I’m leaving Vegas again fairly early tomorrow morning.  I’ve got a lot to do this week in Los Angeles, and I figure we’ll see much of this material soon anyway.  But the chance to see the first finished screening of the latest collaboration between director Larry Charles and Cohen as a new outrageous, larger-than-life character seemed to justify a quick overnight trip.

I didn’t anticipate that Cohen would show up, greeting the audience with a cheery “Death to the West!”  He plays Aladeen as a cheerful lunatic, and he beamed that he loves Las Vegas, “the birthplace of AIDS.”  When you open with an AIDS line, you pretty much set a tone for the evening.  “They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” Aladeen continued.

“That’s bullshit!” someone yelled in the back of the theater.

“Well, it’s true for everything but herpes,” Aladeen shot back.  “David Copperfield taught me that.”  Considering Copperfield was in the theater, that seemed to delight Cohen a little bit extra.  I get the feeling there is nothing he enjoys so much as being the cause of someone gasping as they see some personal sacred cow fall before his shotgun blast of inappropriate behavior.

He talked about how he has been the star of over 380 films in his own country, including “When Harry Kidnapped Harry,” “Beheading Private Ryan,” and “Planet Of The Rapes,” but this is his first Western film, and he’s very proud of it.  The shortest description of it I can offer is “The single most degenerate Jerry Lewis film ever made.”  This is a profoundly dirty movie, and there are few lines Cohen does not happily cross in his desire to upset.

The film moves fast, with so many jokes per minute that even if only half of them work for you, that’s a pretty tremendous number of laughs.  I’m going to write a full review soon, but for now, I’ll say that I liked it quite a bit, and I think it’s smart that Cohen made a shift away from fake documentary with this one.  Both “Borat” and “Bruno” were about him playing these outrageous characters and trying to convince people that they were real, but this time, there’s no pretense towards reality.  It is absurd from start to finish, and Cohen doesn’t hold anything back.

Anna Faris co-stars as Zoe, manager of a vegan lesbian not-for-profit co-op grocery store, and it’s a pretty preposterous character from her as well.  She’s a good match for Cohen, and the film is smart enough to roast the way relationships work in the standard Hollywood romantic comedy, never taking it too seriously.  The script by Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, is totally ludicrous, and there are a few big set pieces that are in startlingly bad taste.  If you are easily offended… hell, even if you’re not easily offended… chances are Cohen will find the thing you won’t laugh at, and he’ll push that button repeatedly.  At least two lines in the film got me to gasp instead of laugh, and I’m sure that’s the point.

I think for some people, they’ll prefer the “gotcha” tactics of the earlier films, while other people may prefer the idea that there are no unwitting victims this time around.  Whatever the case, I love the way Cohen will throw himself into a character completely, and he’s obviously quite pleased to have found a character that can still transgress in ways that he hadn’t tried before.

Just before the film began, Cohen looked down at a woman in the front row and said, “How old are you?  28?  You look like you’re 12 years old.  I’ve been looking for someone like you my whole life.”  Watching his face as he walked out, just before the lights went down and the film started, basking in the audience trying to shake his hand and laughing at his jokes, he was in his element.

“The Dictator” opens May 16, 2012.