Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour 23 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas
Directed by Larry Charles (Borat, Bruno)
Fans of Sacha Baron Cohen - from his short-lived HBO series Da Ali G Show to Borat to Bruno - come to expect a certain kind of shock-comedy from his films, and expectations for The Dictator should be no different. Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the ruthless and clueless dictator of the fictional North African country Wadiya, and although the film is chock-full of familiar Cohen schtick, it ranks towards the bottom of his filmography when it comes to creative laugh-out-loud comedy.
Don't get me wrong, The Dictator is still a pretty funny movie. Sacha Baron Cohen continues to be one of the most daring and cutting-edge comedians working today. His characters - from Ali G to Borat to General Aladeen - all have one thing in common, and that is an unfiltered, politically-incorrect view of the world. Unlike a buffoon comedian like say, Adam Sandler, Cohen's humor has a point, and through his outrageous characters a deep satirical message is delivered.
The problem with The Dictator is that it is like one joke stretched out over 83 minutes. His message to America - the irony that our country is not all that much more civilized than a barbarous dictator's- is interesting, but weary. For every witty joke or bit that works, there are five that fall flat. Some are as empty and hollow as the urn Cohen used to dump Kim Jong Il's ashes on Ryan Seacrest at this year's Academy Awards.
Although the film features a horde of recognizable supporting actors in minor roles - Fred Armisan, John C. Reilly, Chris Parnell, Horatio Sanz and Megan Fox to name a few - Cohen towers above them all and over-shadows their contributions. Even the extremely hilarious Jason Mantzouka - Rafi from FX's The League - is reduced to unfunny. It would be interesting to see a movie made by Sacha where he gives up a few laughs to those around him.
In the film, we meet General Aladeen as he works on creating a nuclear bomb for his country, much to the chagrin of the West. When one of his top aides (Kingsley) tries to assassinate him and replace him with a body double, Aladeen survives and winds up in New York (where else?). In NYC, Aladeen meets the boyish Zoey (Faris), the tree-hugging owner of a green produce store. Here he also discovers that pretty much everybody he has ever executed in Wadiya is still alive, living in the "Little Wadiya" section of the city.
This is a much more conventional, scripted comedy than the likes of Cohen's other films, but it contains the same level of absurdity sure to shock some audience members. There is more than one penis that shows up on-screen, and at one point Aladeen plays a "Munich Olympics" Wii game where he runs around shooting Jewish cartoon characters who yell "Oy vey!" when they are hit. One of the funniest scenes in the film deals with 9/11. So it shouldn't come as a surprise when the opening credits of the film say, "In loving memory of Kim Jong-Il."
Without a point, The Dictator would be a senseless diversion. It still is, but once Aladeen delivers his final speech toward the end, you understand the film's purpose, and it satisfies.
And really, expecting the unique hilarity of Borat every time Cohen stars in a film is raising the bar a bit high. With a bit lower expectation level, The Dictator should appease all but the most prudish of people.
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