Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
Hide the children, protect the old folks…Sacha Baron Cohen has a new film out. From the preceding publicity surrounding the release of The Dictator, you’d think Cohen and his filmmaking cronies were cutting down any last vestiges of political correctness, creating a film the will simultaneously shock, offend, entertain and, possibly, make us think. Well, that didn’t quite happen.
After the success of Borat, and to a lesser extent, Bruno, Cohen has built a reputation as a comedian on the cutting edge, vicariously balancing what is acceptable with what is downright offensive. That goal is obviously aimed at in The Dictator, but Cohen falls short for several reasons…he seems to be treading water comically, not quite daring to go far enough for laughs and his subject matter feels redundant…he’s been here for.
In The Dictator, Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, an oppressive dictator in the fictional North African country of Wadiya. With his ridiculous beard and accent, Cohen is clearly spoofing the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi…the film is “dedicated” to the memory of Kim Jong-il.
The hopelessly inept Aladeen runs Wadiya with an iron fist, randomly executing anyone who happens to cross him, altering the language so that many key words are replaced with his own name…Aladeen. An early setup shows what happens when Aladeen is replaced for the words “positive” and “negative”, when a patient receives his HIV test results. Yes, the premise is outrageous, but the joke is simply not that well executed.
There are laughs to be found throughout The Dictator, just not as many as I would have liked. Cohen strikes comic gold when he shows Aladeen playing a computer game that puts him in the 1972 Munich Olympics, allowing him to fire at Israeli athletes. This is the kind of gasp-inducing humour we expect from Cohen. It is the film’s best moment.
As the plot unfolds, Aladeen and his chief advisor Tamir (Ben Kingsley) must head to New York to appear at the UN. Tamir has ulterior motives and soon Aladeen finds himself beardless and lost in Manhattan. He is rescued by Zoey, an organic grocery store manager played by Anna Faris. This is where things really go downhill. The relationship between Aladeen and Zoey is predictable and Faris simply doesn’t have the acting chops to make her scenes with Cohen work properly.
One senses that Cohen was aware of this as well. How else can he explain the absurd baby-birthing scene that suddenly pops up in late in the film? Unfortunately is makes little sense plot-wise and goes on far too long.
The film’s raison d’etre seems to be the climatic speech in which Aladeen (or Cohen) makes a scathing comparison between the American political system and corrupt dictatorships and calls for true democracy. Of course, one can’t fault Cohen’s motives, and the scene works well enough, but I can’t help thinking he could have achieved the same goal more efficiently and effectively in a 20-minute TV skit, rather than a feature-length film.
As it is, The Dictator is under 90 minutes, so one gets the impression that Cohen himself was somewhat uninspired by the whole thing.
Yes, there are laughs to be found in The Dictator…it’s not awful…and there are a few cool cameos to keep you on your toes, but overall it’s a disappointment. Let’s hope this is the final chapter in this string of Cohen comedies and that Sacha Baron Cohen pushes himself and his comic talents a bit harder next time around.