Director: Larry Charles
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg, David Mandel
Release Date: May 16th 2012
Dedicated to the memory of the late Kim Jong-Il, The Dictator is comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest creation. The Oscar-nominated writer of Borat and Bruno served as both a writer and as the star of this new comedy about a psychotic dictator who– at the slightest whim– is willing to call for the beheading of one of his citizens. Offering up politically-incorrect humor and a star who seems willing to do anything for a laugh, The Dictator succeeds as an inventive, crude and ultimately humorous look at a politician who faces life as an unknown in New York City.
Aladeen (Cohen) starts out the film as the self-obsessed leader of Wadija, a North African nation. His power is immense and his immaturity overt. He changes words in the dictionary to Aladeen just because he can. The word “closed” is replaced with the word Aladeen and so is the word “open,” leading to confusion about a restaurant’s status. A change of the words “positive” and “negative” to Aladeen leads to more confusion and befuddlement at a local doctor’s office.
Aladeen is driving his nation towards nuclear enrichment for non-military purposes. But when he tries to repeat that in public, he can’t help but interrupt his speech with laughter knowing his true intent.
The story focuses on Aladeen’s trip to New York, where he plans to address the United Nations about his nuclear program but his stay abroad is interrupted when his beard is cut off and he runs loose in the street of New York. No one believes that he’s the leader of a semi-powerful nation so he’s left in the companionship of an environmentalist named Zoey (Anna Faris).
Zoey, of course, is a different breed of woman that Aladeen usually encounters. She’s a feminist who works for a vegan, anti-racist, environmental grocery story. At first, Aladeen can barely be in the same room with her but he eventually starts working for her with a plan to infiltrate the U.N.
As he showed in his earlier films, Cohen is willing to do nearly anything for a laugh and isn’t afraid to offend his audience. Those easily offended should steer clear along with those who dislike crude humor.
For others, though, The Dictator is packed with strong laughs and humorous gags. Some of the jokes may be offensive on their own but Cohen’s performance makes even a brutally mean remark into a laugh-line. The lead character is never expected to be taken seriously so when he says something that offends his audience, it just shows that this is a emperor without any clothes metaphorically and—in one graphic scene—literally.
The Dictator manages to wring an amazing number of laughs out of its simple premise. From a helicopter ride with references to 9/11 to a sequence where the dictator must face down some unruly customers, this story finds ample opportunities to mock both illegitimately-elected leaders—one can find dozens of not-so-subtle references to Kim Jong-Il and Gaddafi here—and silly stereotypes.
That isn’t to say that all of the laughs measure up. Scenes involving masturbation and an ill-fated attempt to break into the United Nations via a rope extended across a New York street fall surprisingly flat in this otherwise vastly entertaining story. And a long monologue at the end regarding the income disparity in this country and other liberal talking points seems out of place in a story that never takes itself that seriously.
But other than that, it’s hard to remember a time when I laughed as hard as I did during The Dictator. The dictator may not have the power that he believes he has but the film has a power that other comedies can only dream of: it makes you laugh time and time again.
Review by: John Hanlon