If the recent repudiation at the box office of “The Five-Year Engagement” suggests that men and women have tired of the post-Apatow fusion of chick flicks and dick jokes (Apatow’s ideal in its most watered down — or perhaps most overpowering — state), then “The Dictator,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s send-up of a Qaddafi-like strongman, should be arriving at precisely the right time. Add to this the fact that the ascension of Kim Jong-un, deposing of Muammar Qaddafi, and defeat of Saddam Hussein remain fresh even in our darting American minds, and the film should have a lock on the zeitgeist.
And this is fertile crescent for cinema. Instead of another attempt to take the everyday romantic and professional lives of white Americans over the top, you have a movie that treats unimaginably absurd and awful rulers absurdly, putting humor to the use that any “comedy fan” will tell you it is best applied: processing darkness, disaster, and pain.
Despite all this — and despite the presence of Anna Farris, Hollywood’s great mistress of the absurd — the unrated trailer for the “The Dictator” just feels crude and unfunny. The movie seems to rely on the same fish-out-of-you-know-what formula that all of Cohen’s cringers have, an easy out that means a host of low-budget-like references to the life the character is supposed to embody. The dick-joke side of the equation puts it in a category with any post-Apatow flick you’d like to name. The feminist angle — Faris seems to play one — promises a little more than the average doughy-dude vehicle does, but it could just be one big dick joke in itself. We suspect Cohen has greater ambitions. But if the best this movie can do is summon some broad humor about gender skirmishes in the west, you might as well stamp a great, saggy, Jason Segel sad-face on the whole damn thing.