'The Dictator' Faces Early Critical Coup

"The Dictator" may prove that people finally expect more from Sacha Baron Cohen because they now realize how good he can be.

Cohen's latest comedy, in which he plays a murderous Middle Eastern despot run amok in the United States, triumphantly emerged #1 at the Australian box office Wednesday, Perez Hilton reports. It even knocked off Disney/Marvel's "The Avengers." The stateside numbers tell a different story.

Showing in 3,003 U.S. theaters, "The Dictator" opened mid-week to the tune of $4.5 million, despite reported expectations that it would still pull in $5-6.5 million despite not opening on a traditional Friday as many releases do. Paramount justifiably bumped the opening back a few days so that it would neither compete with "Dark Shadows" last weekend, nor with this weekend's much-hyped "Battleship" debut.

And to be fair, had it waited a full week and opened on May 25, it would have gone head-to-head with Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and "Men In Black III."

"It's an uphill battle here," a Paramount executive said. "But internationally it's ahead of the U.S. tracking, especially in Australia and the U.K. The publicity does feel like it's paying off overseas, especially that Oscar stunt which got huge pickup."

Ah, the Oscar stunt - obstinately working the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences into letting Cohen attend the Oscars in-character, so that he could dump Kim Jong-il's "ashes" all over Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet. This movie's equal to dropping "Bruno" in Eminem's lap at the Video Music Awards.

To give some idea, 152 Yahoo! Movies users' ratings have averaged out to four out of five stars. On the other hand, per Metacritic, critics have scored it an average 60/100.

Here's the thing: maybe this is one rare time the critics actually have a point.

It's hard for Cohen to keep his shenanigans under wraps anymore. On top of that, the act is pretty well established: he's a well-paid troll. It's just that, by now, he's made it clear with performances like the one he delivered in Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd" effort that there's an accomplished, perhaps even "brilliant" actor beneath it all.

It's then that some just start shaking their heads at Cohen for the same reason some just feel frustrated by Lady Gaga: there's very clearly substantial talent present that's being buried beneath showmanship that overshadows substance.