The Dictator film review
"I love it when women go to school. It's like seeing a monkey on roller skates -- it means nothing to them, but it's so adorable for us...”If there’s one thing you can say about comedian Sacha Baron Cohen it’s that the man has balls. Really. He’s completely audacious, doing and saying things for a laugh that other “safer” humorists would tiptoe away from. Jokes about totalitarian regimes? Torture? Rape? Terrorism? You got it. They’re all prominent in Baron Cohen’s latest no holds barred satire, The Dictator. So if you’re someone who is easily offended when people make light of sensitive issues, avoid this controversy-stuffed film at all costs! If however you’re an open-minded adult who’s quite happy to alternate shocked gasps with a good laugh, then I can recommend The Dictator – an outrageous R-rated comedy that’s more hit than miss.
This said, your enjoyment of The Dictator may be determined by your familiarity with, and fondness for, Baron Cohen’s distinctive, politically incorrect style of humour. The Ali G star has always adopted a limits-pushing approach that veers between razor-sharp wit, absurdity, sex-centred gross-out gags and childish silliness. The Dictator is no different. The film is at its strongest when it sticks to wordplay and lunacy, but promptly deflates whenever silliness becomes the focus – and the jokes are left to run painfully overlong.
For the record, unlike Baron Cohen’s last 2 big screen efforts, Borat and Bruno, The Dictator doesn’t feature any candid camera-style encounters with the American public. This film sticks entirely to a fictional narrative.
So, as the movie opens, we meet Baron Cohen’s Admiral General Aladeen, a flamboyant buffoon who’s clearly a cross between Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il, Having inherited control of the oil-rich North African nation of Wadiya from his father, Aladeen has been on a power trip since childhood, utilising his country’s billions to satisfy his every whim.
Eventually Aladeen is summoned to New York to explain Wadiya’s nuclear weapons programme to the United Nations. There a botched assassination attempt leaves the dictator beardless, unrecognisable and reliant on the help of activist hippie Zoey (Anna Faris). While he finds himself oddly drawn to this “midget in a chemo wig,” Aladeen has just 5 days to stop his idiot double from appearing at the UN and committing Wadiya to democracy, which will in turn open the country to exploitation by international oil companies.
Unsurprisingly, The Dictator is feather-light in terms of plot. It’s riddled with far-fetched coincidences to keep things moving along, and the story seems to exist purely as a frame on which to hang a series of loosely linked comedic set-pieces... some of which veer heavily into You Don’t Mess with the Zohan territory. Still, the bickering, odd-couple pairing of Aladeen and Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) – the highly intelligent former head of nuclear research in Wadiya – produces many of the film’s best scenes. Plus, Aladeen’s snarky, supremely racist and misogynistic one-liners are very funny in a “So WRONG!” kind of way.
That’s really all there is to The Dictator. Faris is in typical good-hearted ditz mode, while Ben Kingsley and John C. Reilly make little more than glorified cameo appearances. And for those of you worried about it, The Dictator is nowhere near as sexually explicit as Bruno.
There’s one perilous moment right near the conclusion of The Dictator that suggests Baron Cohen could sell out, and deliver a more innocuous finale. Thankfully though, he veers away into something more “real world” and darkly (but despairingly) comic. In the end, it’s moments like these that elevate The Dictator above so many other adult-orientated comedies of the moment. The film is far from flawless – and certainly isn’t unforgettable – but it’s admirably fearless and shows flashes of genuine smarts missing from so many of its genre rivals.
3.5 stars out of 5.
This review originally appeared online at The Movies.