May 23 2012
Between Ali G, Borat and Bruno, most of the world knows not to fall for Sacha Baron Cohen’s tricks anymore. As no one would probably believe a delusional dictator was wandering around the streets of Manhattan, so Cohen decided to go full-on fiction for his latest venture.
The Dictator is certainly a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, as he balances outrageous crudity and humor in a way that many cannot in comedies these days. But what’s missing is that spark from his other films, that wink at the camera as he allows the unsuspecting idiots he fools to be the jokes he needs on camera. When he’s forced to do everything himself, it’s not quite as effective.
The Dictator tells the story of a fictional despot, General Aladeen, from a fictional country, Wadiya who is more or less out of his mind. Out of the real world rulers out there, he’s probably a hybrid of Gaddafi (both men have an entourage of beautiful virgin bodyguards around them at all times) and the late Kim Jong Il (echoed when Aladeen hosts his own Olympics and sets every world record).
The third dictator Aladeen channels to further the plot of the film would be Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as he tries to build nukes while dodging inspectors. The ruling body finally summons him to the UN to answer for his war crimes, but in transit, he falls victim to a stealthy coup attempt by his number two Tamir (Ben Kingsley), and is replaced with an idiot goatherder body double who serves as a puppet (also played by Cohen).
He manages to escape execution, and beardless and clothless, meets Zoey (Anna Faris) the unshaven owner of a vegan co-op who personifies everything ridiculous and offensive Aladeen associates with the West.
What results is a typical fish out of water story with a Baron Cohen twist, meaning a bunch of insane set pieces that step past more than a few lines of decency. Sometimes this works, as is the case with a misunderstood exchange between Aladeen and his cohort on a helicopter tour of New York which has them seemingly plotting a terrorists attack. Sometimes it does not, like when we get an in utero camera shot of Aladeen trying to deliver a baby at the co-op after he says he was Wadiya’s chief surgeon.
He’s toned things back from Bruno, but you couldn’t go much past what that film showed and not be classified as straight up pornography. He’s definitely the crudest comedian making films today, even if the age of Bridesmaids and The Hangover, and he makes them looks downright Pixar by comparison.
The film is more funny than it isn’t, and I guess that’s all you can really ask from a comedy. Outside of one blunt soliloquy at the very end, the film is missing the social commentary of his past work. Borat and Bruno showed prejudices of the everyday man, where Aladeen is just a goofy parody of some very insane, very dangerous people, who unlike the dictator onscreen, do not have hearts of gold.
This movie would have only been made possible by Sacha Baron Cohen and it’s easy to see that had Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider attempted the same thing, it would have fallen flat. Cohen has the “clueless, offensively ignorant foreigner” shtick on lockdown, but Aladeen manages to be different enough from his past creations to warrant a look. Sometimes the crudeness leaps over humor and lands straight into stupidity, but for the most part, the film hits the correct comedic notes for the duration.
3 out of 5 stars
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