Movie Review: The Dictator

Stars: Sacha Baron Coen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images, Running time 83 minutes, Comedy

Plays like: Borat (2006), Bruno (2010)

As usual with Sacha Baron Cohen movies, I was skeptical at first in watching it. If you know anything about him or the kind of humor he devotes himself to, you know that at some point, you will be disgusted. It’s usually by something he did as an ignorant foreigner unaware of his vacationing country’s customs. The Dictator falls into this but is unique in that unlike Cohen’s last two efforts, this is not shot in mockumentary style. But does it hold up to the political incorrectness of Borat? Is it as inappropriate as Bruno? Both answers are “sort of.” While it has cringeworthy scenes and some very humorous moments, it seems like Cohen and director Larry Charles (also of Borat and Bruno) could do this in their sleep. Most of the jokes don’t feel specific to this movie in that they could just of easily have been in either of Cohen last two films- which makes it a little boring.

North African Republic of Wadiya has been under the rule of tyrant Admiral General Aladeen for forty years. He does what he wants, when he wants. Ordering people to be executed left and right with no thought of the consequences, even attempting to develope nuclear arms. But after the UN threatens to take him out of power by force, Aladeen decides to address the UN council. After being kidnapped and escaping from the clutches of a devious hitman (John C. Reilly), Aladeen is befriended by an activist who is to cater the next UN council meeting that Aladeen is meant to speak at. If Aladeen can get back in, he can prove he’s the real leader (not his double that has taken his place) and make sure he stays in power forever.

If you read that and thought I gave away the entire movie, trust me, I didn’t. A real comedy isn’t about the story itself although this one has no peer in terms of comedy, but about the interactions between characters, the dialogue, the set-ups. This is something Cohen seems to have a firm grasp of. Much like the creators of South Park, Cohen has no issues with tearing things apart that most people don’t even like to speak of in a serious manner, much less poking fun at it like he does. It’s a relief in a way to know that what you’re watching will make fun of everything and everyone rather than point out a specific group and bully them under the guise of humor. We see this often times in comedy where the writers seem to think everybody will latch onto their message and run with them. Once again, this is where Cohen excels; everything is a joke, nothing is sacred and while it is at times offensive, a person with the right sense of humor understands that none of it is meant maliciously and you’re not the only one offended.

The standout role has to go to actor Jason Mantzoukas, who plays Nadal, Aladeen’s head of Nuclear Research. After Nadal makes the perfect bomb, Aladeen is annoyed that the end isn’t “pointy” like it is in a “documentary” he watched. Nadal asks him if the documentary was Looney Tunes. Many jokes like this especially serve well if keeping in mind there are men who actually live like this. Dictators who act on whims like grown children and live life the way they think other countries say a person of wealth should live. Or maybe for some people, that’s what makes it unfunny.

The big issue with this movie is pacing. While watching, it seems as though the director, former Seinfeld writer, Larry Charles leaves an opening in between each joke as though it were a sitcom played with a laugh track. In a comedy, silence can be deafening and it’s The Dictator’s downfall. After every humorous line is a blank moment as if to say “Get it? Laugh now!” As much credit as I give Cohen for joking about every racial and religious prejudice, there seem to also be the moments after a joke that give you time to realize you might be offended and it’s possibly what was intended. Every moment that was quiet felt like it could have been cut out. While a few of these spaces are not a big deal, it happening multiple times adds up to dead air and that’s what makes the comedy feel a little…meh.

If you liked the last two Baron Cohen films, you’ll watch this one and it’s understandable. I wanted to see it. But will it add up? Maybe not. The last two had the unexpected on their side while we have an idea of what Cohen will be up to on this one and he doesn’t seem to mind playing into that. Then again, as Hangover 2 and Project X proved, some people are willing to laugh at anything meant to step on toes.

Grade: C


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