Film Review – The Dictator

The Dictator (MA)

Directed by: Larry Charles

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley

Two and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright


Much will be made of the gross out hijinks of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest character Admiral General Aladeen. Exiting screenings, audience members are sure to discuss the part that churned their stomach the most, or the gag that pushed the envelope the farthest. Cohen has been getting these reactions since his Ali G days and has been consistent with Borat and Bruno. After The Dictator, those conversations would probably last a bit longer.

But while audiences debate which joke was most outlandish or had them gasping in disbelief the loudest, what they probably wont discuss is how poorly this comedy is made, and how, structurally, it pales in comparison to Cohen and director Larry Charles’ mock documentary efforts. Resorting to a straight forward scripted and directed comedy this time around, the controversial duo have shelved the genre bending technique they used for Borat and Bruno. The effect is not only an occasionally funny barrage of low-brow gags, but this time they are less imaginatively delivered.

Execution-happy dictator Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) rules Wadiya, Africa, where the poor live in fear as he lives in luxury. During a trip to New York with his offsider Tamir (Ben Kingsley) to address the UN, Aladeen is kidnapped. He manages to escape, beardless, and discovers he has been replaced by a simpleton lookalike who is being forced to appear in front of the UN in his place and declare Wadiya a democratic country.

In his attempts to reverse the plan, Aladeen teams with organic food store owner and uber feminist Zoey (Anna Faris), who he meets at a protest rally against him. At first constantly mistaking the short-haired Zoey for a boy, Aladeen is eventually smitten with her and discovers a softer side to himself.

The gags that ensue are a mixture of hilarious, amusing, off-putting and downright offensive. But then again, we knew we would get that from Cohen. There are several laugh out loud moments that actually come from the least offensive jokes. Megan Fox poking fun at herself, Aladeen’s own rigged Olympics and a dig at people who wear crocs come off wittier than much of happens around them. The riffing between Aladeen and a former worker he thought he had executed Nadal (Jaosn Mantzoukas) offer some of the highlights, but also some of the low-lights as their discussions turn beyond inappropriate.

But whether you find this sort of thing funny or not, the most disappointing thing is the unenthusiastic way it is all presented. The film looks cheap and upon reflection, several scenes don’t have a point except to serve as another opportunity to freak out the audience with another un-PC gaga. Most conversations play out in sitcom style with the audience sitting through the set up, waiting for the punchline.

Borat and Bruno had the uncanny ability to make us laugh at a particular situation, then question ourselves as to why we are laughing or if, in fact, we should find it funny in the first place. All The Dictator does is present a gross out moment in a desperate attempt to get some laughs. Admittedly, a third mock documentary approach could have been stretching things, but after seeing this lazy attempt, I would have welcomed it with an open gag bag.


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