Sacha Baron Cohen stars as General Aladeen and Megan Fox stars as herself in The Dictator.
Iko Uwais stars as SWAT team member Rama in The Raid. Picture: Akhirwan Nurhaidir.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous films, Borat (2006) and Bruno (2009), were pin-sharp satires on certain aspects of contemporary culture, but The Dictator (16s) offers a different, broader kind of comedy. Directed by Larry Charles and co-written by Cohen, it’s the story of how Aladeen (Cohen), a brutal dictator of a fictional North African country, finds his humanity and an appreciation of his fellow man when he is reduced to penury on the streets of New York after being summoned to the US to explain his nuclear energy programme to the United Nations. It’s a timely piece of work: Aladeen frets about having to host Osama Bin Laden in one of his palace’s many spare bedrooms, after one of the Al Qaeda leader’s body doubles is taken out by Navy Seals in Pakistan; meanwhile, he harangues one of his minions about the fact that he doesn’t yet have a nuclear weapon, even though the Iranian leader Ahmadinejad does — “and he looks like a snitch from Miami Vice!” Those easily offended, and particularly the politically correct, are advised to steer clear of The Dictator; if Cohen took a scalpel to the culture in Borat and Bruno, here he wields a blunderbuss, and he isn’t taking any prisoners.
The Raid (18s) arrives garlanded with the kind of superlatives that suggest it may well be the most sophisticated combination of light and celluloid ever to grace a silvered screen. This may well be true if you’ve only ever seen Bruce Lee movies: those with a broader appreciation of film will probably feel that Gareth Evans’ debut is a very effective example of the martial arts flick, but may also conclude that Gareth Evans is 14 years old. Essentially, a Jakarta SWAT team, led by our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), is ordered to take a high-rise apartment building in a slum neighbourhood, in order to capture the ganglord Tama (Ray Sahepaty). Whether or not they succeed is almost incidental, as the whole point of the film is to showcase the specific Indonesian martial arts skills of Iko Uwais, as he and sundry others bludgeon, batter and pulverise their way from one set-piece action sequence to the next. It’s all superbly choreographed, and there is, initially, an impressive inventiveness in the way the characters find increasingly odd ways to kill one another, but the film itself is a hollow creation, all sound and fury that signifies nothing. The easy option is to compare the movie to a computer game, but at least in a shoot-’em-up the audience is engaged to some extent, even if it’s just to participate in the brutality and the killing. Here there’s nothing to do but sit back and absorb the lovingly crafted imagery of relentless, remorseless violence, which is at first compellingly repulsive, then becomes sickening, and finally grows so monotonous the eyes glaze over and you begin to wonder if Gareth Evans isn’t offering a cleverly subversive commentary on the disturbing male lust for violence. It’s all very slick and accomplished for a martial arts movie, but those who like traditional story elements such as character development and an emotional investment in the outcome should probably avoid.
In A Kiss for Jed (15A), frustrated Irish filmmaker Ray (Mark O’Halloran) travels to New York in the company of the vivacious Orla (Jayne Wisener) with the intention of filming Orla’s attempts to kiss C&W star Jed Wood, the results to be broadcast on a reality TV show back home. Very little goes to plan, however; Ray’s attempt to play the ‘in loco parentis’ role to the fun-loving Orla is undermined when he begins to fall for a woman many years his junior, even as Orla cavorts around New York with Freddie (Rafael Sardina), a Latin American charmer whose intentions are significantly less than noble. A debut feature film by Maurice Linnane (previously known as a director of music videos, and who co-wrote the script with Barry Devlin), the story has the potential to offer interesting insights into how the act of filming, and particularly for a reality TV show, transforms real people into cardboard characters, and perhaps even caricatures. Unfortunately, and despite likeable performances from a lively Wisener and an enjoyable morose O’Halloran, the film never really manages to bring its various elements together into a cohesive, believable whole.
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