Flanked by two babelicious bodyguards and a cluster of soldiers toting fake (we hope) sub-machine guns, Sacha Baron Cohen’s character from The Dictator made his first public appearance Monday night since spilling ashes all over Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars in February.
The actor appeared as the blissfully horrible despot at the Paramount Pictures presentation at CinemaCon, the annual convention for theater owners. No ashes were spilled, but no punches were pulled either.
The Dictator, a.k.a. General Aladeen of the non-existent Middle Eastern Republic of Wadiya, joked about torturing Roger Ebert for the sake of a positive review, called DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg a fellow tyrant (and got a kiss on the hand for it), and suggested he would blow up the first three rows of the theater if exhibitors didn’t put his film on their screens.
Baron Cohen’s speech began pleasantly enough: “Hello, and death to the West!”
“It is a pleasure to be here to address Cinnabon,” he went on. “I love movies. In fact, I have starred in every single film made in my country — blockbusters [pronounced “blue-kah-boosters“] such as When Harry Kidnapped Sally, Beheading Private Ryan, The 14-Year-Old Virgin, and the family comedy Planet of the Rapes.
“America, America … you really are the devil’s spawn. I thought I would be the only dictator here tonight, so imagine my surprise when I found out Jeffrey Katzenberg was speaking! He rules with an iron fist! Jeffrey, we all follow your every move in the Middle East.”
He said he hoped everyone would enjoy The Dictator, which recently shifted its opening from May 11 to May 16 (giving it some distance on The Avengers and Dark Shadows). He also invited the entire audience to a late-night screening at a nearby Las Vegas theater.
“You will be glad to know it’s already the best-reviewed movie of the year. Roger Ebert, he-a luuuved it. In fact, he gave it ‘two thumbs up.’ Look, I show you,” Aladeen said, withdrawing two severed thumbs from a pocket. “Disgoosting! He-a bites his nails!”
Putting away the thumbs, the character added: “He also gave it ‘one testicle yanked completely off.'” Luckily, Aladeen couldn’t find that particular item in his pockets, turning up only an unrelated severed ear.
Before leaving, the Dictator told the crowd of theater owners: “I hope you all show my film on all of your screens, but of course it is completely up to you. I would never threaten you. By the way, everyone in the first three rows … Please check under your seats. Is that chewing gum under there? It’s certainly not plastic explosives!”
On the way out of the theater, the character came face to face with Katzenberg, who stood and bowed, and even kissed the Dictator’s ring. (Baron Cohen knows the DreamWorks Animation chief through his work voicing King Julien in the Madagascar films, the third of which previewed earlier in the presentation.)
The character’s final words to the crowd: “Trust me, there are bigger bombs than John Carter!” Aware that he struck a nerve, Aladeen said, “Be quiet, Disney, don’t worry. I will employ you in Wadiya. Just shoot the executive … Wait a minute, you did!”
Rich Ross, the Disney studio chairman who resigned last week, was not present to kiss any rings.