Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Comedy Movie Review of ‘The Dictator’ (2012)

Movie Review of ‘The Dictator’ (2012)

Who would’ve thought that Sacha Baron Cohen had another new character in him? The talented performer fooled the world using the personas of Ali G, Borat and Bruno, and now Cohen has re-teamed with director Larry Charles to introduce another comic creation for another hard-R comedy destined to be both controversial and polarising. Like Cohen and Charles’ prior collaborations, The Dictator is a character-based comedy more concerned with vignettes than storytelling, but this is a scripted movie with slick production values instead of a mockumentary. Fortunately, though, the controversial punch of Borat and Bruno remains – The Dictator is gleefully un-PC, to the extent that it even kicks off with a title card announcing itself to be dedicated to the memory of Kim Jong Il. But what’s disappointing is that Cohen’s brilliant new caricature has been situated within a paint-by-numbers plot.

A flagrant dictator, Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen) rules the North African Republic of Wadiya with an iron fist and zero tolerance. Suspected of war crimes and a secret nuclear arms program, Aladeen agrees to travel to New York City to address the charges against him in front of the UN. Upon arrival, a government official (Reilly) kidnaps Aladeen and strips him of his iconic beard. Stranded on the streets of NYC where nobody will recognise him, Aladeen is taken in by a feminist, activist and grocery store manager named Zoey (Faris) who believes Aladeen is actually a political refugee named Allison Burgers. Meanwhile, Aladeen’s backstabbing confidant Tamir (Kingsley) begins to use an idiotic Aladeen body double to represent Wadiya in front of the UN and announce that the nation will become a democracy. Appalled by the notion of equality and peace, Aladeen teams up with former nuclear scientist Nadal (Mantzoukas) as he sets out to reclaim his power.

The Dictator is welcomely brisk. Charles keeps the flick taut and disciplined, charging ahead with maximum momentum and brevity to ensure the film never outstays its welcome. On the downside, the story is too standard-order – its twists and turns are pure formula, leading to an ending which introduces generic character arcs. Sure, Cohen and Charles likely felt that Aladeen needed to change his ways since it’s challenging to sympathise or care about a murdering terrorist, but is such an arc really necessary in what’s meant to be a dark, politically incorrect comedy? And did the pair really have to opt for a story as overdone and thin as this? The romantic subplot with Zoey, meanwhile, is clichéd hogwash. The Dictator should have merely served as a playground for Cohen to go nuts with his new role (the notion of him trolling the UN is a feature-length film premise in itself), but Aladeen’s shenanigans are less fun and even somewhat restricted when everything is so written and doctored.

Fortunately, The Dictator is an utter hoot whenever Sacha Baron Cohen does what he does best. The picture is littered with great gags and one-liners, most of which are in appalling taste. Cohen is an equal opportunity comedian – he sucker punches everyone and every taste here. Consequently, at any time half the audience will be offended while the other half will be laughing uproariously. And my word, the best jokes here are almost on the same level as Borat. On top of offensive dialogue (including rape jokes, sexist jokes and racist jokes), a few sight gags are destined to be controversial (including a terrorist Wii game that allows Aladeen to behead people and re-enact the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre). Cohen’s humour occasionally has bite, too – he attacks China, satirises America’s current political state in a very ballsy way, and generally pokes holes in widespread ideologies. Due to its extreme content, though, The Dictator is not for every taste. This is a picture designed for those who enjoy Cohen’s typical brand of provocative humour and/or R-rated comedies in general. If you felt that Borat and Bruno crossed the line, this is not a movie for you.

Sacha Baron Cohen is an utterly fearless performer. He’s a fine cinematic troll who’ll go to great lengths – no matter the cost – to sell his characters’ personas and make people laugh. Not every joke is gold here, but you cannot fault Cohen’s sheer eagerness in the role of Admiral General Aladeen. Another standout in the cast is Jason Mantzoukas as Nadal. Mantzoukas scores a number of huge laughs, and his chemistry with Cohen is marvellous; it’s pure gold to watch the bantering between the two. As for Anna Faris, the actress does a fine job as Zoey. There are also numerous celebrity cameos scattered throughout the picture which are too amusing to spoil.

The end of Cohen’s hidden camera productions was inevitable, as Borat and Bruno stirred up such a ruckus that people are bound to recognise Cohen no matter how much make-up he wears. This is all well and good, but The Dictator does feel too calculated. The charm of Borat was how raw and spontaneous it felt (no matter how scripted some sections might have been), whereas this flick is polished to an almost detrimental degree. Still, The Dictator is frequently hilarious to such an extent that it’s worth seeing. Fans of Sacha Baron Cohen will most likely enjoy it.

6.8/10

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