THE DICTATOR Review

Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of being outlandish and extremely inappropriate and does not shy away from that image in his latest "The Dictator". The man behind "Borat" and "Bruno" trades in his non-scripted documentary-like features for his first scripted romp and he comes out, for the most part, unscathed. I have always enjoyed the extreme lengths to which Baron Cohen was willing to go for his laughs and while I feared that the change to a scripted format would make the moments of random acts towards unexpected onlookers lose some of the edge out of his wit I was pleasantly surprised by how hard it was for me to contain my outbursts. There were several times throughout the screening where I couldn't help but to laugh out loud. I know it to be a film where I thought it genuinely funny because there were only four other people in the theater and so, I was not coaxed into laughing because everyone else was. Instead, I reacted out of pure surprise and sometimes shock at how far the comedian was willing to go, the racist, insensitive, hateful things he was willing to say to get a laugh and though I tried my best to put myself in the shoes of those who were being ridiculed, therein lies the trick. No one in particular can lay claim that Baron Cohen is after them specifically because "The Dictator" is universally offensive and in some way is making fun of every single person that is watching it, we are essentially laughing at ourselves. Someone once said we need to find humor in everything and if you agree with that statement then you should certainly be commending Mr. Cohen because he goes the extra mile to make sure we laugh at not just the most vulgar of acts, but the most ridiculous of realities.

Tamir (Ben Kingsley) and General Aldeen (Sacha Baron
Cohen) are welcomed to the U.S. by John C. Reilly.
While the one thing Baron Cohen has always suffered from is not having a strong sense of storyline I would have thought he might have stepped that aspect up here seeing as it was scripted, but while there are clearly attempts at stringing together something logical it is mainly an excuse for Baron Cohen to get his point across. What little traces there are of a story concern Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen) the dictator of a fictional north African country called Wadiya. Naturally he wants to build nuclear weapons and naturally he is then summoned to the U.S. to speak to the UN to explain his reasonings for the weapons and his plans for his country. Aladeen's right hand man and uncle Tamir (an underused Ben Kingsley) has other plans once they reach the states though and hires a hitman in the form of John C. Reilly to take out the dictator so Tamir may use an idiotic double to run the country as he should have been allowed to in the first place. Aladeen escapes his attempted torture session and runs into Zoey (Anna Faris) the purposefully lesbian-looking, liberal owner of a eco-friendly grocery store. Aladeen befriends Zoey in an attempt to regain control of his country. There are consistent stabs at the west for our general perceptions of this mix of real-life dictators that Baron Cohen has combined to create Aladeen and everything they stand for. Baron Cohen has made Aladeen a dimwitted  loose canon of a ruler who finds pleasure in his power. He pays the rich and famous for carnal needs (insert Megan Fox cameo) but desires more from the relationships. He has the audacity to change words in the Wadiyan dictionary to his name that cause a good amount of confusion (a running gag that really works). He operates his own Olympic games and once he arrives in the good ole' U.S. of A. he seems to make some slight observations that offer a great moment at the end that truly plays toward the more satirical direction I expected the film to take.

Zoey (Anna Faris) and Aladeen defend his remarks on a
helicopter to one of his arresting officers.
The film overall though is filled with more broad humor. I should have known better than to actually think Baron Cohen would subdue himself just to get his actual point across when he could be as gross out as he wanted or maybe needed to be. While the satire was merely sprinkled here and there we are also given more than enough offensive stuff going on throughout to satisfy fans who are going in expecting Baron Cohen to be like his characters of the past. You can see shades of Borat within Aladeen but the main issue I have with "The Dictator" is that while "Borat" was a film that had no shame in crossing the line it also seemed to have a purpose to its menace, to its controversial statements. what was enticing about it was that this stranger was forcing us to take a look in the mirror while "The Dictator" is clearly trying to make a similar kind of statement it doesn't feel as fresh at times and certain gags, such as having as talking on the phone while the phone is inside a woman's vagina, feel not necessarily out of place, but certainly not justified in any way. I laughed, sure but I wanted more out of it. I wanted to lose it like I did the first time I watched "Borat". It is evident from Cohen's writing that he likes to follow a similar format and in doing so he has given himself a sidekick again, this time in the form of Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) who used to be Wadiya's former head scientist in charge of creating the nuclear weapons that was dispatched by Aladeen because he would not make the bombs with a point. There is some great scenes between the two of them (one in which is the helicopter ride you've seen in the previews) that produces some great banter and indeed another running gag with a deceased African-American's head that is yes, really funny. The unusual camaraderie between the two stands out but that only seems to be because the other characters critical to the story are simply sketches of stereotypes. This especially applies to Faris's character who is supposed to be the main love interest but proves to be of little interest at all despite Faris's honest comedic efforts.

Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) shows the Dictator his new
nuclear weapons.
While I was not blown away with hilarity by the film as I wanted to be it did prove to be a worthwhile endeavor. Granted the film only runs for about 84 minutes. Still, this is a positive in the light that it gives the film a light, zany feel that zips from one joke to the next without focusing too long on whether it landed of flopped. There are plenty of celebrity cameos to spice up the going-on's including a nicely placed bit by Edward Norton. The real focus here though is in fact the character that Baron Cohen has created and who the movie is named for and in that regard it is easy to say that Aladeen dominates every scene he is in, though I did appreciate Sir Ben Kingsley's choice to play it straight with only a slight wink to the audience. It is too bad he was not a more integral part of the story that we watched play out on screen for as much as I enjoyed Nadal and Aladeen's back and forth I would have loved to watch Baron Cohen and Kingsley go toe to toe with one another. There is no shame in laughing at what the comedian has presented here as being offensive for he has only summed up the naivety and misplaced morality of people that he has seen in the world no matter the race or religion. He is laughing at us, he is pointing out obvious missteps while making us realize how dumb they look when we take a step back and look at them with a different perspective. Baron Cohen may not come off as if he is trying to get a serious message across with his films, but I have never questioned the comedian's intelligence and it is clear from every one of his projects that he is attempting to not simply analyze the culture with which we live, but he wants to expose it for what it really is and maybe, just maybe, in the end, help fix it. Side note: check out the soundtrack...it's awesome.