Sacha Baron Cohen, back in the US and A… Brace yourselves…
The H-Bomb: Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the leader of Wadiya, a fictional country located somewhere in North Africa. Sporting a signature beard that he was born with, and an immaculate white military uniform, he spends his days having his underlings killed for the slightest of reasons and his nights bedding Hollywood’s hottest celebrities. Facing the threat of sanctions against his made-up nation over his nuclear program that he swears “is being developed for peaceful purposes,” Aladeen decides to travel to the United Nations in New York City to address the general assembly.
Soon after arriving in the Big Apple, Aladeen is kidnapped out of his hotel suite by John C. Reilly, who then proceeds to torture him in the most inhumane way imaginable… by cutting off his signature sacred beard. Aladeen manages to escape, and soon discovers that ranking members of his government have staged a coup, and that a double has taken his place at the U.N. Aladeen attempts to tell the guards at the U.N. who he is, but to no avail. He then listens in horror as his slow-witted double promises to reform and turn Wadiya into a democracy and will sign a treaty making it official in a few days time.
That gives our “beloved oppressor” a few days time to reclaim his identity and prevent his country from being stolen out from under him (that’s how he sees it, at least). Eventually, he is aided by some new age hippie chick (Anna Faris) who owns a green, non-profit grocery store that will be catering the U.N. event, thus giving Aladeen a way to sneak into the building. The only hiccup is, aside from this girl’s hairy armpits, is that she is an avid anti-Aladeen activist, and if she discovered his true identity, it could mean more trouble for our deposed tyrant on the lam. Raunchy, audacious, gleefully politically incorrect hi-jinx, as well as cultural learnings of America for make benefit glorious nation of Wadiya ensue.
The Dictator is pretty much exactly what you would expect from Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles, the actor and director who graced the world with Borat and Bruno. It’s filled with that same kind of “wrong” humor that can make us wince just as much as it can make us laugh. It is an equal opportunity offender that sticks it to just about every culture in existence; Middle Eastern, America, Asian, it don’t matter. If there’s one thing to be learned from watching these films, it’s that nothing is taboo for Cohen and Charles.
Unlike Borat and Bruno, this is a feature film, with a script and actors in every single role, as opposed to the quasi-documentaries that those earlier movies were. And because of that, The Dictator has, unfortunately, substantially less bite. In Borat and Bruno, we saw this ridiculous character going up to real people in the real world, and it was their honest reactions to this nut that helped make those movies as funny (and uncomfortable) as they were. Now, I understand why they dropped that approach, as Cohen has just become too damn famous to be able to trick people anymore, but still, it has lost a certain something-something because of that.
That is, however, not to say that The Dictator is not a funny movie, because it is. It’s often hysterical, with Cohen’s Aladeen making the sexist, racist, anti-Semitic statements that we’ve come to expect from one of his characters. Aladeen is basically Borat, if Borat were the leader of a country. For people with a taste for this kind of thing, there is a lot to make them split a gut over. For me, the highlights included a scene that involved a woman giving birth and a cell phone, another in which Aladeen discovers the sacred art of self-gratification, and my personal favorite, one that’s shown partially in the trailers, Aladeen and one of his followers terrorizing a couple of tourists on a helicopter.
There are times, however, when the humor goes from being provocatively subversive to downright tasteless, such as when Aladeen is playing a first-person-shooter videogame called “The Munich Olympics”, in which, as you may have guessed, he controls a terrorist running around a dorm gunning down Israeli athletes. At the screening I attended, that gag was met with an uncomfortable murmur instead of laughter. Another bit that doesn’t work is a running joke in which Aladeen was constantly making up aliases for himself by reading them off of nearby signs.
But overall, the funny does outweigh the unfunny in The Dictator. After all, how many movies are there where you get to see Ben Kingsley kiss another man’s armpits? Or have Megan Fox spoof her own image in such a candid way? In fact, there are a surprising number of celebrity cameos, including Edward Norton in what has to be the most demeaning role of his career. To sum it up, if you’re the kind of person who was offended by Borat and Bruno, then you do not want to see The Dictator, because it is very crude, very rude, and goes places that other comedies would never ever dare (making jokes about African child soldiers and molesting 14 year-old boys), and what else would you expect from a film that starts off with the dedication “In loving memory of Kim Jong-Il?”