The Dictator – movie review

Dir Larry Charles

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Sir Ben Kingsley

Runtime 80mins, Rating 15.

Plot summary: The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s Channel 4 series “Da Ali G Show” rocketed him to international success and acclaim roughly ten years ago – the three main characters from that show have each enjoyed cinematic outings (to varying degrees of success) making the Dictator, General Aladeen his 1st original character to grace the silver screen. “Original” may be a misnomer however, as Aladeen is a gestalt surrogate used to embody every despotic cliché one can imagine.

The plot, such as it is, borrows heavily from Coming to America – Aladeen is ungraciously ripped from his luxuriant lifestyle and plonked penniless in Manhattan, shorn of comedy oversized beard or fawning acolytes. This fish out of water discovers he has a few days to reclaim his rightful place before Machiavellian antagonists replace him permanently and sell off his assets to Western corporations hungry for his nation’s oil reserves. As chance would have it, Aladeen crosses paths with a vegan feminist (Faris). Soon his path to redemption begins to unfurl in front of him.

Of course, all of this is mere place-setting for a relentless torrent of gags & skits that mine the baser depths of the comedy spectrum. Choosing a South Park-style approach to political correctness; every minority, race, religion, style tribe & lifestyle choice is attacked in some form of gross out gag, misanthropic put-down, or withering disdain. To SBC’s credit, the jokes come flying so frequently that even with roughly a 50% hit rate there’s enough wrongness to keep most audience members chuckling along.

With a runtime that barely eclipses an hour before the credits roll, the Dictator is brief enough to not outstay its welcome, but it does smack somewhat of a wasted opportunity that potentially could have provided a far more pointed and biting satire. A climactic speech hints at contemporaneous observational insight that could have achieved more were it spread throughout the movie.

SBC’s previous films have relied on using members of the public to be shocked into unwitting reactions and the spontaneous comedy that comes from these moments– the rodeo in Borat, the fashion show in Bruno and so on. With the Dictator, Cohen’s star has risen so high that such shock tactics would have proven futile. Consequently, with this scripted excursion , it feels like he has gone out of his way to be significantly more offensive and puerile to elicit a reaction from the paying audience. Whether he succeeds is something that only your own comedy sensibilities can decide: certainly some audience members chose to walk out at the screening I attended.

Unfortunately, the final impression is of somebody trying a bit too hard to replicate former glories and coming up short. Cohen is a natural comedian and a brilliant character actor – his turns in both Hugo and Sweeney Todd were both extremely good, which leads this reviewer to conclude that perhaps he is better suited to playing along in other people’s films.

The Dictator – you probably will laugh, but you won’t be proud of yourself for doing so.

2.5/5

This review was originally written for and posted on Blogomatic 3000

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