The Dictator was a movie that I had little interest in when it was released and knew little about. Star Sacha Baron Cohen had been out and about, pulling a number of stunts while in character, and I admit that I thought he was pushing his luck if he wanted to try and repeat the trick that had rewarded him so well in Borat and Bruno. But Sacha Baron Cohen is a smart guy, as anyone must be to make people forget the horrible Ali G Indahouse.
In The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Aladeen, a stubborn and ruthless dictator who is also far from overendowed with intelligence. This is a man who gets all of his knowledge about explosive missiles from cartoons. Many of his subjects hate him but nothing can be done about it. It would seem, however, that his uncle (Ben Kingsley) has plans that require Aladeem to be out of picture. Permanently. While on a trip to the UN, Aladeen is indisposed and a double (also played by Sacha Baron Cohen) put in his place. With no knowledge of the big picture, no idea of how to act in a normal, civilised manner and, worst of all, no beard, it doesn’t look good for Aladeen. He’s fortunate enough to meet the kind Zoey (Anna Faris), a woman of good ethics who helps him to survive in America while he tries to fix his situation.
This is a typical fish out of water comedy that just happens to make the “fish” a nasty and brutish dictator. It’s Coming To America for a generation of middle-class white people who are now terrified of anyone who has a beard and looks like they may be from the Middle East. Of course, not everyone is so prejudiced but The Dictator is so much fun because it paints in such broad strokes. Aladeen is the worst person you could ever want to see in the position that he holds and he’s also an idiot that you can laugh at. The movie shows him struggling to adapt to change but also shows others reacting to him in a variety of ways, some admire his style while some just assume that he’s trying to commit a terrorist act (which, despite the police being called racist for making such assumptions, he is). A lot of stereotypes are squeezed in here alongisde plenty of little details that are piled on and on and on until they quickly become ludicrous. It’s comedy wrung from exaggerating small truths and it works brilliantly.
Do be warned though – if I haven’t made it clear already then I must let you know that there’s plenty here that could cause offence. If you get offended easily. I was laughing aloud but perhaps not everyone wants to see women being milked, a man having to retrieve an almond dropped into a pile of brain matter or two people holding hands and realising their feelings for one another while those hands are actually stuck inside the womb of a pregnant woman that they’re trying to help deliver a child.
Director Larry Charles (who also helmed Borat and Bruno) does a fine job here but most of the strength of the movie comes from the script and just how far it is able to push the boundaries of taste and decency. Hey, this is no Troma movie but it IS a film in which a character is told that his partner is pregnant and asks “are you having a boy or an abortion?”
The other aspect adding strength to the movie is the bravery of the performers who are all happy to actually get the jokes and go along with them. Sacha Baron Cohen is enjoying himself as much as you would expect him to but Ben Kingsley has quite a bit of fun with his role and John C. Reilly provides some big laughs with his limited screentime. Anna Faris does pretty much what she’s been doing for most of her career and she’s good at it. There’s solid support from Chris Elliott, Kathryn Hahn, Bobby Lee and Kevin Corrigan but the movie is almost stolen by two people – one is a virgin guard able to cause severe damage with her large breasts and the other is an ex-subject of the dictator named Nadal. Nadal is played by Jason Mantzoukas and he gives a great performance.
The soundtrack includes plenty of recognisable songs given a linguistic twist, there are some fantastic running gags (including one concerning the replacement of many words with word/name Aladeen) and the big finale includes a speech that’s brilliantly simple, funny and horribly true all at once. I’m glad that I finally got around to seeing it.
DIRECTOR: LARRY CHARLES
WRITER: SACHA BARON COHEN, ALEC BERG, DAVID MANDEL, JEFF SCHAFFER
STARS: SACHA BARON COHEN, ANNA FARIS, BEN KINGSLEY, JASON MANTZOUKAS, CHRIS ELLIOTT, JOHN C. REILLY, KATHRYN HAHN, BOBBY LEE, KEVIN CORRIGAN
RUNTIME: 83 MINS APPROX