Catholic Movie Reviews - The Dictator, Battleship, What to Expect When You're Expecting

By  Catholic News Service
  • May 18, 2012

The Avengers is still sitting on top of the box office charts. Can the new Sacha Baron Cohen comedy dethrone it?



The Dictator

By Adam Shaw, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Given the graphically scatological and sexually degrading humor comedian Sacha Baron Cohen showcased in his two previous feature films -- 2006's "Borat! Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" and 2009's more manageably titled "Bruno" -- it would seem a tad unrealistic to hope that his latest picture, "The Dictator" (Paramount), might avoid an unwholesome hat trick.

As it turns out, such reckless optimism would indeed be misplaced. A shift from the hidden-camera, ambush-style satire that characterized Cohen's earlier efforts to a more traditional scripted offering does nothing to prevent his signature antics feeling tedious and recycled. Nor, for that matter, does the change in format involve any corralling of their waywardness.

This time around, Cohen plays Adm. Gen. Aladeen, a composite, but Moammar Gadhafi-like tyrant from the fictional North African nation of Wadiya. After his scheming uncle (Ben Kingsley) uses Aladeen's state visit to the United Nations as the opportunity to stage a coup, replacing the outrageously bearded goof with a more pliable imposter, the true leader finds himself wandering the streets of Manhattan, whiskerless and penniless.

Taking an alternate identity, he befriends hippy-dippy vegan collective grocer Zoey (Anna Faris), muddles his way into a job at her food store, and plots to retake his title.

Although the premise is workable, and the relationship between the tyrant and the free spirit provides some touching and genuinely funny moments, the rest of director Larry Charles' comedic portrait amounts to little more than a mix of foul language and gross-out sludge, a combination that produces more winces than laughs.

So, what witty and whimsical jibes await lucky moviegoers? Besides the blatantly sexist and racist jokes, there are gags playing on such ripe-for-comedy subjects as rape, pedophilia, prostitution, AIDS, abortion, necrophilia, suicide and homosexuality. And that's not to mention the scene devoted to masturbation in which the kidding around pauses long enough for the practice to be explicitly -- and straight facedly -- promoted as "healthy."

Curiously, the proceedings culminate with a finger-wagging lecture about the shortcomings of American democracy. This last-gasp aspiration to satiric seriousness, however, falls just as flat as all the puerile cavorting that preceded it.

The film contains occasional violence, strong sexual content including pervasive sexual humor, fleeting full nudity, a same-sex kiss and an explicit endorsement of aberrant acts as well as frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.




By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - The great 18th-century lexicographer and sage Samuel Johnson once observed that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

He was referring, of course, not to genuine love of country, but to the kind of frantic, chauvinistic flag-waving meant to divert attention from faults, scandals and hidden agendas.

Such jingoism can also serve to mask artistic weakness or even exhaustion, and to paper over innumerable improbabilities. Once the cavalry shows up on the horizon, after all, who really cares what's come before?

Though it summons the Navy -- rather than men on horseback -- to rescue the world from nothing less than a seemingly invincible alien invasion, the action adventure "Battleship" (Universal) amounts to little more than feel-good nonsense. Even as it pulls out every patriotic stop within reach, however, director Peter Berg's project does manage to offer a largely harmless, if quickly forgotten, diversion for mature viewers.

Also functioning as a (somewhat belated) coming-of-age tale, "Battleship" opens with the rowdy misadventures of directionless twentysomething Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch). Alex's adolescent-style high jinks draw the understandable ire of his steadier older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), a straight-arrow naval officer.

Stone eventually browbeats his baby bro into joining him in the service. But even there, Alex's misbehavior continues, endangering both his nascent career and his romance with his gal Sam (Brooklyn Decker).

Sam's a physical therapist for wounded vets -- most prominent among them, Lt. Col. Mick Canales played by real-life Purple Heart winner and screen newcomer Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both his legs in the conflict in Iraq. Not surprisingly, Sam's father, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), takes a dim view of her relationship with our hero.

Cue the extraterrestrials whose arrival on earth could not be better timed to force Alex to grow up fast and prove his mettle. This being the 21st century and all, he does so shoulder to shoulder with Petty Officer 2nd Class Cora Raikes (music star Rihanna), who seems to have been thrown into the mix to represent the tough-as-nails distaff side of the duty roster. Sam, too, provides some shore-side assistance in the fight.

Thus we have the luxury of interspersing our lusty cries of "Hooray for America!" with the odd "You go, girl!"

As Hollywood continues to ransack the baby boomer generation's attic of collective memory, all this is supposed to have something to do with the titular Hasbro game, first marketed by the Milton Bradley Co. in board-game format in 1967. (Paper-and-pencil predecessors can, it seems, be traced back as far as the 1930s.)

One lengthy scene does recognizably reference the characteristic "Battleship" grid, together with the location-guessing that drives the game. But otherwise, this is really a special effects-heavy salute to the power -- past and present -- of seaborne artillery, unmoored from the ingenious simplicity that made the eponymous pastime a popular staple.

But, then again, who can oppose opening up the guns on malevolent space travelers who sport porcupine-stiff goatees and only four -- or was it three -- digits on each hand? Certainly not those grownups who go to a summer movie in search of air-conditioning, popcorn and mindless fun.

The film contains much action violence and some painful slapstick, at least one use of profanity and about a dozen crude as well as a handful of crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.



What to Expect When You're Expecting

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (Lionsgate) is a fruitless reproductive comedy that awkwardly juggles the stories of five expectant couples as they prepare for four deliveries and an Ethiopian adoption.

Director Kirk Jones' fictionalization of Heidi Murkoff's best-selling advice book veers between vulgar humor and trite sentimentality. It also showcases misguided contemporary attitudes toward sexuality, pregnancy and parenthood.

A characteristic moment: After a long spell of living together, one of the duos -- to say which would be a spoiler -- uses the arrival of their baby as the moment to become engaged. Well, better late than never, one supposes.

Besides the implicit message that there's nothing wrong with shacking up, Shauna Cross and Heather Hach's script reinforces the modern trope of pregnancy as a disease to be dreaded. It also plays on the Hollywood stereotype of responsibility-averse males who tremble at the prospect of fatherhood -- or of any other commitment, for that matter.

Made in that man-boy mold is bohemian musician and prospective adoptive dad Alex (Rodrigo Santoro). At the behest of his photographer wife, Holly (Jennifer Lopez), Alex seeks to allay his fears of growing up by joining the so-called "Dudes Group," a circle of fathers who meet at a local park to give their babies and toddlers a stroll.

But this herd of henpecked beta males -- led by comedian Chris Rock -- only inflame Alex's anxieties all the more by dwelling on the horrors of domestic life.

Their complaints grate more than they amuse. So, too, do the personalities of some of the other characters, especially that of personal trainer and TV celebrity Jules (Cameron Diaz). Coarse, pushy and selfish, Jules bellows her way through bringing new life into the world after becoming accidentally pregnant by her boyfriend, professional dancer Evan (Matthew Morrison).

Despite having written a book in praise of breastfeeding, which an early scene shows her reading to a roomful of alarmed schoolchildren, lactation expert Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) finds herself equally miserable when she exchanges her romanticized notions about becoming great with child for the thing itself. We're treated to an extended discussion, and display, of all her varied woes.

Bored by the lowbrow proceedings on screen, the viewer's mind is apt to wander from images of Butterfly McQueen's Prissy in "Gone With the Wind" -- she of the immortal "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!" -- to wondering how soon we can get away from the subject of Wendy's swollen ankles.

The film contains errant values, including a benign view of cohabitation, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and in vitro fertilization, pervasive sexual and biological humor, some scatological humor, an implied aberrant sex act, brief rear and partial nudity, a couple of instances of profanity, at least one use of the F-word and much crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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