Review "Dear Dictator" (2018)
A naïve sixteen-year-old (Odeya Rush) starts corresponding with the dictator (Michael Caine) of a small island nation. When he’s deposed, he comes to hide with his former pen pal, and uses his revolutionary tactics to help her become popular in school.
I hate it when movies with decent, unconventional titles get re-named. It happened recently when CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE became the generic BEGIN AGAIN, and indies seem especially vulnerable to this trend. Such is the case with this week’s DEAR DICTATOR, which began as a Black List script (and first cut) called COUP D’ETAT, a more appropriate title which is spoken over and over in the film.
The premise isn’t half bad, with Michael Caine playing a Castro-like Dictator, who’s overthrown in a revolution. He somehow makes his way to suburbia, where he calls-on the high school student whose been sending him punk rock CD’s and fan letters, Tatiana, played by Odeya Rush, A take-off on MEAN GIRLS, which is name-checked and referred to several times throughout the film, Caine’s Anton Vincent uses his oppressive tactics as a means to help his “revolutionary-in-training” take over her high-school, mostly out of boredom, with his men having seemingly abandoned him.
It takes some suspension of disbelief to believe that an internationally wanted figure like Anton could somehow escape his island nation and make it to the U.S, and even more that a sixteen-year-old would shelter an international war criminal with a huge body count on his hands, no matter how naive they are. Likewise, Katie Holmes, as her man-hungry mom, not only finds out who her house guest is, but even starts to lust after him, although I guess Caine still has that movie star charisma, even if he’s getting up there a bit.
DEAR DICTATOR wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t for Caine playing the lead. Clearly relishing the part, he plays well opposite Rush, although the latter is maybe too stereotypical a Hollywood version of what an unpopular kid is, in that she’s model-beautiful, smart and funny. It never really makes sense why she’d be an outcast.
DEAR DICTATOR stumbles in some respects, particularly when it comes to Katie Holmes' two dimensional part as Rush’s mom. She’s portrayed as having a torrid affair with her married dentist employer (played by Seth Green), but the whole thing is played in a cartoonish way – and having her be a bit more down-to-earth might have made the premise more palatable.
Luckily, Caine is Caine, and he can’t help but be worth watching. He brings his A-game here, and looks funny walking around in an Adidas track suit, and struggling to learn how to use “the world wide web”. Whenever he’s on screen, I quite enjoyed DEAR DICTATOR, and luckily he’s on-screen a lot. The high school aspect of the film is old-hat, but when it’s focused on him and his relationship with Rush, the movie is worth-watching.