77 min., dir. by Larry Charles, with Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, and Sir Ben Kingsley
Sacha Baron Cohen is the king of putting people in uncomfortable situations and ultimately uncovering their true natures. American audiences are most familiar with Borat and Bruno, while others will also remember “Da Ali G Show.” All three characters had their moments in the sun. Don’t be fooled though, this is not Cohen’s first purely fictitious, scripted comedy– for instance, there was an Ali G movie (Ali G in Da House) that didn’t translate too well in the States. While The Dictator is leaps and bounds better than Ali G in Da House, it’s far from perfect.
Supreme leader of the Republic of Wadiya, Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen), wants two things out of life: to be loved, and death to the West. He’s close to having a nuclear missile ready for launch by the time he is due in New York to address the UN Council. With the number of attempts to assassinate the Admiral General growing by the day, the amount of security surrounding Aladeen while in New York is astounding. Still, someone gets to him and commits an unspeakable act: he removes Aladeen’s beard! He then finds that, while in New York, his doppelganger has brought democracy to Wadiya. Now unrecognizable without his beard, Aladeen sets out on an adventure to reclaim his leadership and preserve dictatorships all over the world.
Plenty of the jokes that fill the first half of The Dictator are cute and outrageous, though slightly stale. If you’re familiar with Cohen’s humor, nothing comes as a surprise. A few treats are sprinkled here and there, but nothing propels the laughs. The film picks up with uproarious hilarity as the story begins to wrap up; at this point, however, the film is almost over, and it’s not enough to deem The Dictator an unrelenting success.
You will be disappointed if you sit down expecting a wall-to-wall laugh riot. However, this is still an enjoyable film. Cameos are numerous, and the film’s conclusion is a glorious stab at current politics. Just as all his previous films have been roundabout ways of pointing out the hypocrisies in society today, Cohen’s The Dictator does the same.
Matthew Schuchman is the founder and film critic of Movie Reviews From Gene Shalit’s Moustache(http://shalitsstache.com) and also the contributing film writer for IPaintMyMind(http://ipaintmymind.org).