Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Dictator

Admiral General Aladeen (Sasha Baron Cohen) is the dictator of the fictitious North African Republic of Wadiya. After his attempts to build nuclear weapons are announced he is summoned to the UN to explain his and his country’s plans. While in New York he is betrayed and an attempt is made on his life. After escaping he discovers that he has been replaced with a double and finds himself working in a vegan, shared earth coop where he becomes friends with Zoey (Anna Farris). Aladeen uses the coop to try to regain his identity and his grip on power in Wadiya.

For his 4th feature, Baron Cohen has moved away from the mocumentary style for which he has become synonymous and The Dictator is mostly played as a straight forward comedy feature. The character of Aladeen is based on a hodgepodge of various real life dictators and draws from the West’s perceptions of them and their countries. The result is that Aladeen is a racist, sexist, cartoon who while being occasionally funny, generally fails to impress. The humour of the film on the whole failed to resonate with me and the majority of the audience I saw it with, indeed a man on the row in front of me walked out about an hour in having not laughed once.

The film delivers the kind of jokes you’d expect from a Sasha Baron Cohen film with a mixture of un-PC statements and comments and gross out stunts. If you’ve seen the trailer then you’ve seen most of the less offensive jokes and the more offensive stuff didn’t impress me. I loved how un-PC and wild Borat was and I’m a fan of stepping over the line in that respect but in The Dictator the offensive jokes felt a bit lazy. There is a fair amount of cultural stereotyping in the film, which you come to expect, but what Baron Cohen did with it felt old and lazy. He’s done it all before. Some of the more offensive jokes failed to make anyone laugh in the screening I saw and these included a video game where you could shoot Israelis at the Munich Olympics. I am a bog fan of comedy which pushes the boundaries of what you can and can’t do but only when it serves a purpose. In The Dictator it was used mainly for cheap laughs.

I had expected a bit more satire from the film. When dealing with a subject such of this I was hoping for more subtle and satirical humour but it was generally played very broad. There was one very good part in which Aladeen compared the USA to a dictatorship which had me laughing but no one else. Perhaps this is why the film was played so broad. Other than this scene the satire was thin on the ground and I think that was a missed opportunity.

Baron Cohen is good as Aladeen but the character is not that far removed from Borat. I thought that his accent was a bit wobbly, ranging from random Arab to Swedish and back again via Russia. Ben Kingsley was excellent as Tamir, Aladeen’s uncle. Kingsley plays the role completely straight but with a knowing raised eyebrow. Anna Farris was fine as the love interest/political activist but her character was really annoying. Even speaking as a left wing, vegetarian feminist I disliked her. She was just a caricature and like a lot of the film was lazily written. There were numerous cameo appearances but most failed to provide anything. One area of the film that I liked a lot was the soundtrack which was scored by Baron Cohen’s brother, Erran. The film takes well known songs by the likes of Snoop Dogg and REM but replaces the words with Baron Cohen’s made up faux-Arab. The result is quite funny but sometimes barely noticeable.

I think I went into the film hoping for a cross between Borat and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. I left feeling very underwhelmed by what turned out to be a run of the mill Romantic Comedy with a bit of crude humour thrown in. The film has funny moments and I’m sure there will be some people who will love it but for me it could have and should have been so much more. Sasha Baron Cohen has it in him to make something much funnier and edgier and I hope he delivers that next time.



  1. Good review Tom. Wasn’t as funny as Borat, or even Bruno for that matter, but it still made me laugh a lot more than I expected to mainly because of Baron Cohen’s style of humor. He’s always so mean with his roles, but is perfect at staying in character the whole way through.

    1. He's a great comedy actor and does a decent job but because he is so good, I wanted more.

  2. Nice review.

    I agree with your thoughts about the hunmor. The jokes were very lazy. I sort of wished that he would have teamed up with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Those men know how to push boundries while still keeping the humor intact.

    1. Yeah, those guys would have aced a film like this.