Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest poli-slapstick vehicle The Dictator finds the comedian/writer trying to cover the broadest range of humour imaginable, to mixed results. Here he stars as Admiral General Aladeen, the vainglorious and idiotic North African dictator of the fictional oil-rich country Wadiya. Re-teaming with director Larry Charles, this project marks a change from the provocative mockumentary stylings of Borat and Brüno, as aside from a few cleverly used news clips the entire film is scripted – perhaps as a result of Baron Cohen’s growing fame or lawsuits, but either way it’s a refreshing change from his increasingly tiring shtick.
The Dictator tells a simple, unoriginal tale of mistaken identity, as Aladeen is double-crossed by his No. 2 (Ben Kingsley) and switched with an even more moronic double (Baron Cohen again) before his address to the United Nations in New York City. Stripped of his beard and identity by an incompetent CIA torturer (John C. Reilly), Aladeen is forced to wander the streets until he is taken in by a naive activist (Anna Faris) to work at her ultra-PC vegan co-op, and a tedious romance develops. But what keeps The Dictator interesting throughout it’s very uneven 90 minutes is the wildly unpredictable nature of the humour, which delivers both huge laughs and awkward misses, including: offensive jokes on race, gender, terrorism; gross-out scatological gags; fun celebrity cameos; and high-brow social satire.
Baron Cohen has said that Charlie Chaplin’s Nazi-skewering classic The Great Dictator was a key influence, and although he manages to throw in some decent barbs at American hypocrisy and China’s unscrupulous ambitions in his climactic speech, The Dictator is too inconsistent, forgettable and downright lazy to really matter, let alone be considered a classic by anyone. Baron Cohen is as committed as ever, always willing to do anything for the sake of a joke, and this new format has freed him considerably from the constraints of his previous films. But after the genius of Da Ali G Show and Borat, we expect a lot more from him. While often funny (and slightly more enjoyable than Brüno), The Dictator is ultimately a scattershot misfire that never achieves the sublime levels of satire and absurdity of Baron Cohen’s best work.
Watch the trailer for The Dictator below.