Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Megan Fox, John C. Reilly DIRECTED BY
Larry Charles SCREENPLAY
Alec Berg, David Mandel, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeff Schaffer MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
83 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
Oh, yeah. The Dictator is also frequently very funny.
The Dictator is also far less spontaneous than the Sacha Baron Cohen we've come to expect from films such as Borat and even Bruno, though that has far more to do with the fact that it would be nearly impossible to go into The Dictator without having a pretty good idea exactly what you're getting into.
If you find Sacha Baron Cohen's usual character-driven shtick humorous, then it's practically guaranteed that you'll find much to love about The Dictator. If, on the other hand, you found even Borat a waste of your time then it's hard to figure out why you'd even convince yourself to go check out this film.
The Dictator has Sacha Baron Cohen being Sacha Baron Cohen again, though this film is far less mockumentary style reality cinema and far closer to a traditional narrative feature. In case you've been hibernating, Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen. Aladeen is sort of your everyman Mideast dictator of a fictitious land known as Wadiya. Aladeen is painted almost adorably psychotic, the kind of world leader who dictates that his nuclear warheads must be pointy because pointy warheads are more frightening. He's the kind of dictator who has a wall of photos adorning his bedroom of those he's paid for sex, including more than a few celebs, but he's also just warm and fuzzy enough to crave someone who will stay with him after the sex for a little "cuddle."
In other words, he's the perfect character for Sacha Baron Cohen - sweet, silly, sick, savagely funny and just plain savage.
The iron-fisted (okay, it's actually closer to Silly Putty) Aladeen finds himself traveling to New York to speak at the United Nations when the U.N. threatens airstrikes over a nuclear program that Aladeen proclaims as peaceful with a not so subtle giggle in his voice. Unfortunately for Aladeen, he's also being set-up by a traitorous uncle (Ben Kingsley) who was passed over for the nation's leadership in favor of the seven-year-old Aladeen. Severely mutilated in the most humorous ways in an encounter with an American security head (John C. Reilly), Aladeen finds shelter in a vegan free earth collective led by Zoey (Anna Faris), who pretty much represents everything that Aladeen doesn't believe in.
You can likely already now smell the numerous set-ups for rapid-fire jokes about the Mideast, women, racial stereotypes, sex, body fluids, American culture and Osama Bin Laden, whom Aladeen proclaims is still alive and living as a bad guest in Aladeen's guest house. Along the way, Aladeen learns to respect Zoey, at least to a certain degree while also gaining at least a modicum of respect for democracy, Israel (Wadiya's sworn enemy) and quite a few others.
Despite the predictability, a good number of the jokes and intentional set-ups still manage to work. Much of the credit for this unquestionably goes to Cohen himself, though the film is also cast quite well and Anna Faris is actually a tremendous match for Cohen with a terrific ability to weave together over-the-top humor with a certain endearing quality that makes you actually care about her along the way far more than you might expect.
Cohen picked up an Oscar nomination for his work on Borat, a fact that surprised many mostly because the film's spontaneity made you wonder just how much of it was scripted. There will be no such recognition for The Dictator, a film that takes a fairly straightforward approach to the whole "fish out of water" routine and tosses in an abundance of crude behavior, outright raunch and comments made by Aladeen that are so offensive that you're likely stunned he says them but there's probably a good number of Americans who've thought them anyway.
There's something freakishly funny when someone finally has the guts to say the taboo things that have been sloshing around in our heads for days or weeks or months or years.
The Cohen shtick is also so familiar that it's hard to truly be offended by it. As I looked around at the audience for The Dictator at a promo screening in Indianapolis, blacks were laughing at black jokes and women were laughing out loud at an onslaught of jokes about feminism and the worth of women in the Mideast culture.
There are predictable set-ups galore that still get laughs, ranging from Zoey's discover that Aladeen has never masturbated to a certain Wii game involving the 1972 Munich Olympics and much, much more.
There are times that The Dictator gets a bit too pretentious for its own good, most noticeably in a stunningly intentional monologue near film's end where Aladeen draws not even close to subtle comparisons between a dictatorship and American culture. Yet, director Larry Charles and Cohen manage to work together to keep this film buzzing so breezily that it's easy to let go of jokes that don't work and set-ups that feel uneven or forced and to simply enjoy the good majority of the humor that manages to work in partnership with a surprising degree of heart.
While Borat was wildly successful at the box-office, Bruno experienced a significant drop and it will be interesting to see if America turns out for what will hopefully be one of the talented Cohen's final forays into his character-driven cinematic ventures in favor of his other recent high quality work in such films as Hugo.
It may not be the funniest film you'll see this year, but The Dictator is occasionally hilarious and frequently just plain funny. While it doesn't quite fire on all cylinders, it consistently entertains and serves up a pretty decent story along the way. Cohen, at times, seems a touch bored with his less spontaneous character here but when he's surrounded by inspired performances such as that from Faris he comes back to life and everything feels right in the Cohen universe.