The Dictator is the latest from fearless comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Another raunchy romp from Cohen, The Dictator, unfortunately, lacks the spark that made his past films Borat and Bruno so damn funny. The Dictator is Cohen’s first starring non-mockumentary. He is re-teamed with director Larry Charles and joined by a cast including; Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, and John C. Reilly. I went in with mild expectations and left with a mild reaction.
Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen) is the tyrannous dictator of the fictional Northern African nation of Wadiya. Aladeen essentially has the power to do whatever he wants, including paying American celebrities like Megan Fox, Oprah Winfrey, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to sleep with him. That aside, all Aladeen wants is a meaningful relationship. Tamir (Ben Kingsley) is Aladeen’s uncle who tires of his ruthless nephew’s incompetence. So Tamir conspires to overthrow Aladeen by replacing him with a double on a visit to New York City. Once this happens Tamir can have the fake Aladeen sign a contract at the U.N. ultimately ending Aladeen’s reign. This leads to Aladeen becoming lost in America and soon finding work alongside a vegan activist Zoey (Anna Faris) in a natural produce store.
What follows is a mixed bag of filthy one-liners and gross-out sight gags. I say “mixed bag” because some of the jokes are fine and some are just bad, like Love Guru bad. The one recurring joke that stings the most is Aladeen always trying to come up with a new American name. He gets these names by looking at signs like “Men’s Washroom” or “Maximum Occupancy”. All he does is put different inflections and accents on these words as if that’s how comedy works. The name he goes by for most of the film is “Allison Burgers” which I’ll admit is kind of funny, but they should have left it at that.
The initial announcement that The Dictator was not going to be a mockumentary was definitely a disappointment. I mean, Cohen’s improvised un-p.c. humor is more or less what made him famous. The comedic tension and awkwardness of his past films are what made them so great. The Dictator feels too safe and not nearly as shocking. Cohen’s new character General Aladeen is essentially a less oblivious Borat. Borat was funny because he had virtually no grasp of Western Culture. His skewed interpretation of modern America is what made that film so funny. Aladeen is dumb, but he’s far more rude than dumb. It’s Aladeen’s arrogance that’s primarily used as the basis of the jokes.
Don’t get me wrong there are some funny bits in The Dictator. My favorite is based on the fact that in Aladeen’s native Wadiya the words “Positive” and “Negative” have both been replaced by Aladeen. So there’s a scene with a man getting tested for HIV and it goes something like this…
Doctor: Do you want the Aladeen news or the Aladeen news?
Patient: The Aladeen news?
Doctor: You’re HIV-Aladeen.
That’s the kind of comedic wordplay you’d see in something like Airplane. Most of the other jokes utilize either some form of sexism or racism or both. The Dictator also has a handful of sight gags that vary. My favorite is where The Dictator sneaks into a funeral service to steal a beard from the corpse of a man he believes to be Morgan Freeman. So, it’s worth a laugh or two, maybe a rent. I just hope Cohen can catch fire with his next character. I’d hate to see Cohen hit a Mike Myers-like slump this early in his career.