Reel Critics: On 'The Dictator' and 'Battleship'

Sacha Baron Cohen is the king of bizarre, vulgar and shameless comedy.

He loves to roast every aspect of human decency on a skewer of nasty sarcasm. He used his incendiary formula as the audacious "Borat" and won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy in 2007.

His latest affront to polite society is "The Dictator."It's a satire of the insane life of a Khadafi style despot from North Africa. Rest assured it's rude, crude and deliberately offensive to all levels of awareness. But Cohen adds a silly subplot of scripted romantic comedy to his normally crass observations of life.

Anna Faris plays the misty-eyed girl who implausibly falls in love with the undercover tyrant. But the combination of outrageous R-rated humor with budding romance seems ridiculous. It takes the edge off the core of the movie's brash focus.

About every 10 minutes, something happens to create embarrassing but side-splitting laughter. But the lame periods in between the big laughs take all the air out of Cohen's balloon.


Scrap Metal

From Hasbro toy makers comes the movie"Battleship," a rousing compilation of familiar moments from "Top Gun," "Independence Day," "Under Siege," "Armageddon," "Contact" and "Pearl Harbor."

Scientists have been sending signals to outer space in search of life in other planets. Yet when aliens are detected on our radar screens, everybody suddenly turns stupid and ineffectual.

Perhaps it's because they weren't expecting amphibious Transformers (another Hasbro product) to rise from the seas like a high-tech Venus.

Leave it to rogue Navy Lt. Alex Hopper (blank-faced Taylor Kitsch) to ride out in a small boat and stomp around on the alien craft until it sets off an "extinction-level" global event.

Oops. Not even singer Rihanna, for all her weaponed slow-motion menace, can save the day.

Amid the hardcore destruction and flying metal shards (that never injure the stars), there's about five minutes of interesting tactical warfare that actually resembles the classic Hasbro board game which inspired this movie.

Nice touch to include a sincere salute to veterans (and real life vet and amputee Gregory D. Gadson) responding to the call of duty.

It's all good fun, but "Battleship" goes way overboard on CGI mayhem and sinks on originality. Like huge metal fireballs in the sky, you can see where this story's headed from miles away.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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