The best way to sum up Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest satirical film The Dictator is with the phrase “it is what it is.” Audiences who loved Cohen’s previous films, Borat and Bruno, will obviously want to see this while audiences who hated those films will avoid this regardless. The Dictator is one of the more cohesive of Cohen’s films with a very straight-forward narrative. The does lessen the impact of the political message somewhat but at the end of the day you won’t feel like you wasted your money.
The Arab nation of Waadeya is ruled by the vicious dictator General Alladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen). When Alladeen goes to New York to meet with the United Nations he is tortured and loses his beard. Wandering the streets of New York, unrecognized, Alladeen meets the beautiful Zoey (Anna Faris) who tries to make him a productive member of society.
The Dictator is one of the few movies whose best moments aren’t spoiled in the advertising materials. A lot is, I will admit, but the jokes still soared in the events of the movie and some moments fared better in the context of the film (specifically the scene with the woman in labor). The humor is crass and politically incorrect but it is sharp and shocking and because much of it isn’t shown in the marketing you’ll be surprised no matter how many trailers you’ve watched. The films has a set narrative this time around, not putting Cohen’s character into situations with average joes like his first two films, and at a fast-moving 83 minutes director Larry Charles knows to wrap things up quickly. Sacha Baron Cohen continues to craft characters that are repellant but with a dash of charm. His Alladeen character is a repulsive character but there are moments of sweetness, especially in his need to find someone to “cuddle” with. It’s cliché to be sure but Cohen and co-screenwriter Alec Berg do create a character with some redeeming qualities. The final moments of the film, Alladeen’s big speech, has the most biting satire of any of Cohen’s films. Comparing the US to a dictatorship is a bold move but it’s hard to argue with the logic presented by Cohen’s character. Say what you will about his shtick getting old but Cohen is still able to make with the political statement.
Even though there is a story the film does seem to be a rehash of Borat and Bruno regardless. The repulsive character out of his element trying to force others to his point of view becomes repetitive quickly and you never feel for the love story between Alladeen and Zoey. Much of this is due to the fact that Anna Faris seem to have lost any acting ability she once possessed continuing to be a big-eyed Barbie doll. Despite her short Mia Farrow haircut it’s completely unbelievable seeing her as a hippie feminist grocery store owner (although her character is a thin caricature in the script as well). Some of the jokes are also completely unfunny in the context of the film, or worse, get beaten into the ground. The scenes of Alladeen in the grocery store just aren’t funny in the context of the film. In the trailers its fun to watch him kick a kid or slap someone but it just seems stupid and out-of-place in the film like there was more building up to it. There’s also a whole subplot involving a Chinese dignitary played by Bobby Lee having sexual encounters with celebrities. It’s funny to see the celebrity cameos at play but the joke is brought up so many times it’s utterly stupid by the film’s conclusion.
Did I feel I wasted my time with The Dictator? No, but sadly I wouldn’t want to see it again. It’s a fun matinee movie with friends if you’re a Cohen fan but it’s nothing new or original like Borat. It’s fun for its runtime but forgettable by the end of the day.