Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, John C. Reilly
Running Time: 84 minutes
Release: May 16th
Admiral General Aladeen is the comical dictator of the fictional African nation Wadiya. He dreams of a world without Israel, and nuclear weapons with pointed ends rather than rounded ones. But when a U.N. meeting demands his presence he must travel to the evil West, where a sinister plot unravels to liberate his oppressed people with democracy.
What ensues is a politically correct nightmare of hilarity. Baron Cohen (Aladeen) has swapped his trademark cocktail of practical jokes and mockumentary stylings for more traditional straight fiction, fourth wall and all. Instead of subverting the public’s preconceptions face to face, director Larry Charles and Baron Cohen attempt to draw the same lines of comedic irony and hypocrisy through a narrative that’s defined by their previous work together. Unfortunately, this is what lets The Dictator down. The duo’s previous offerings successfully balanced a comedic vehicle for plot and narrative, whereas this film’s strained concept seems at times like incidental filler in between the jokes.
That being said, Baron Cohen and his writers have certainly not forgotten how to twist the blade in America’s side. Despite the obvious set piece nature of the scenes, the boundary pushing political and social subversion at work have not lost their impetus for shock and laughter. Aladeen, as a raw facsimile for Gaddafi, innocently delivers cutting bigotry for all to gasp and laugh at – moving seamlessly from extreme anti-Semitism, overt misogyny and a slightly disturbing preoccupation with abortions.
As the protagonist fights to retrieve his country and work through the paces of a fairly standard fish-out-of-water tale, he almost finds an understanding of other people. This is helped by a stereotypical liberal played in many shades of bland by Anna Faris. However, despite all these goings on, it’s difficult to shake the cynical disappointment in the back of your head that none of this is real. When Aladeen loses two American tourists in translation, leading to racial stereotypes being reinforced out of context, it’s hard not to sigh through the laughter. We know that the two tourists are actors and not a genuinely uncomfortable couple.
Despite its flaws, The Dictator retains many of the trappings of an old-school comedy classic, true to form for Sacha Baron Cohen. It easily knocks out a laugh a minute, combining the retro slapstick nature of Laurel and Hardy with the careful wit of an Armando Iannucci comedy. Simultaneously wry and crass, The Dictator only lets itself down on the foundations from whence it came. Sadly, it will never be Borat, but is still hilarious throughout.