Jul 02, 2012|
After the outrageously wicked Borat and the merely passable Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen and co-conspirator Larry Charles team up once again, and unfortunately the result abides by the law of diminishing returns. The biopic is not a mockumentary but a fully-scripted comedy, and therefore lacks the sort of “gotcha!” comic gold we’ve become used to. Although The Dictator has a promising premise, it’s only sporadically funny.
It’s some consolation, at least, that Baron Cohen perfectly morphs into the role of Admiral General Aladeen, the Supreme Leader of fictional North African country Wadiya. Narcissistic, insecure and childish, Aladeen kills his time by having celebrity one-night stands, squanders his nation’s oil wealth on vanity projects, has a team of “virgin guards” and sentences anyone who opposes him to death. His tyranny, reminiscent of Muammar Gaddafi’s and Saddam Hussein’s, is condemned by Western society, while his nuclear ambitions, similar to those of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-il, are the reason he’s summoned to New York to address the UN.
However, just as the despot arrives in the Big Apple, he’s double-crossed by his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley), who plans to replace him with a moronic body double (also Baron Cohen). Though the assassination attempt fails, Aladeen ends up without his signature beard and goes unrecognized. He finds shelter at a vegan grocery shop run by left-wing activist Zoey (Anna Faris). At the “Death to Aladeen” restaurant, which is frequented by Wadiyan exiles and refugees, he stumbles into his former top scientist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), who agrees to help him regain power.
The script—co-written by Baron Cohen and three Seinfeld scribes—doesn’t shy from racism and sexism for laughs. The Jewish star riffs on anti-Semitism: in a memorable scene, Aladeen plays a custom-made Wii game where he kills Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. But the jokes here aren’t really as shocking or offensive—nor as hilarious—as Borat fans would expect. There’s also a half-hearted and just plain weird romance between Aladeen and Zoey. Against the dark and cynical political satire, the sweet rom-com vibe seems totally out of place.
With a game cast (including cameos by John C. Reilly, Megan Fox and Edward Norton) and an interesting score (pay attention to the Arabic renditions of “Everybody Hurts” and “Let’s Get It On”), The Dictator is basically several good sketches linked together by many bad ones. At the end, the movie does make a good point that US “democracy” isn’t that far from dictatorship, but the delivery lacks subtlety and sophistication.