THE DICTATOR: 3 ½ STARS
Underneath it all, behind the crazy beard, the weirdo accents and the vulgar jokes Sacha Baron Cohen must be a romantic. In “Borat” he played a homophobic race baiter who came to America to search for his love Pamela Anderson. “Bruno” was about an extreme form of self love and now, in his latest movie, “The Dictator” he plays a monomaniacal potentate willing to leave behind his despotic ways for the love of Zoey (Anna Faris), an organic health food store owner
Cohen plays the “beloved oppressor” General Aladeen of Wadiya, a small oil-rich fiefdom near North Africa. He has absolute power, plays a Wii beheading game and announces to the world he has acquired nuclear arms. When the UN demands that he attend a meeting he goes to the “devil’s nest of America,” New York City. Everything changes when he is betrayed by his second in command (Sir Ben Kingsley) who plans an assassination. Instead, shorn of his trademark beard, he is let loose in NYC with a double in his place at the United Nations. To prevent the double from declaring Wadiya a democratic nation and his former ally from selling off their oil he must regain his beard and identity.
“The Dictator”—which is apparently based on Saddam Hussein’s 2000 romance novel, “Zabibah and the King” but feels more like a modern take on Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”—takes full advantage of the Four P’s of Comedy—penis, puerile jokes, poo and political humor.
The level of humor ranges from frat boy raunch to real wit to jokes that will make you say aloud, “That’s not right.” Of course, any movie that starts with the dedication, “In loving memory of Kim Jong-il” and features Osama Bin Laden jokes is bound to push the envelope.
Thing is, it doesn’t push it far enough. There’s lots of fun dialogue like:
Zoey: The police in this country are such fascists
Aladeen: And not in a good way.
And there are Baron Cohen’s trademark “I can’t believe he just said that,” material, but “The Dictator” isn’t the pedal-to-the-metal experience his other films have been. It’s not exactly safe, but it is more standard, and slightly less funny than we’ve seen from him before.
But when he hits the sweet spot it works. Who else would dare cast Meghan Fox, as herself, playing a washed up actress turned celebrity prostitute? Only Baron Cohen could get away with the single most extreme childbirth scene ever. The raunch is tempered somewhat by the love story—there’s his romantic side again—but no amount of romance could smooth over the 9-11 jokes.
But the real gold here is his political satire. It’s not subtle or nuanced, but then again, nothing in this movie is. He uses the extreme behavior of General Aladeen to comment on current events. The movie climaxes with a filibuster to the UN extoling the benefits of a dictatorship.
“One percent of the population controls the ninety-nine percent!” he yells. “You can fill your prisons with one racial group and nobody cares! Give your rich friends tax breaks!”
“The Dictator” will mostly appeal to fans of Baron Cohen’s shock-and-awe absurdity. If you hated “Bruno” and walked out of “Borat,” then you may want to take a pass here, but if you have the stomach for jokes about “rape centers” then “The Dictator” may be for you.