Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Larry Charles
Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kinglsey, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukos, John C Reilly, Fred Melamed, Megan Fox, Joey Slotnik, Chris Parnell, Chris Elliott, Adam Lefevre, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Piddock, Edward Norton, Dennis Rees, Garry Shandling.
What’s not to like about a comedy lovingly dedicated to the memory of the late Kim Jong-il, supreme leader of North Korea?
The Dictator marks a change in approach for comic Sacha Baron Cohen. His previous films like Ali G Inda House, Borat and Bruno were all based on characters he had originally created for his tv show. The Dictator is a completely original character, and the film eschews the same sort of mock documentary approach of those other films. Gone are the ambush style interviews, the impromptu stunts. Instead, The Dictator is a conventional scripted comedy, with a tight structure and a coherent narrative.
Cohen has co-written The Dictator with Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schafer (the team behind Curb Your Enthusiasm, the raunchy comedy Euro Trip, etc) and they seem to be on the same wavelength. The crude humour is aimed at the lowest common denominator and is pretty much hit and miss, although it seems to hit the mark fairly often here. Cohen’s outrageous brand of humour is deliberately racist, sexist, homophobic, and politically incorrect, and he pushes the boundaries of good taste. Even though the film is less edgy than Bruno or Borat, there is still something here to offend almost anybody. The film pokes fun at terrorism, Jews, celebrities, the United Nations, the US, feminists, vegetarians, greenies, and fascist dictators, but there is also some telling political satire.
Cohen plays Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen, the egocentric and eccentric despotic rule of the fictitious nation of Wadiyah, a rogue African country. Aladeen is loosely based on infamous despots like Gaddafi and Hussein, albeit played for laughs. Oil rich and with unlimited wealth, the incompetent Aladeen rules his nation with an iron fist, indiscriminately ordering the execution of anyone who offends him. But when he is forced to go to New York to address the United Nations about rumoured weapons of mass destruction he falls victim to an attempted coup by Tamir (Ben Kingsley), the rightful heir to the throne, who is plotting to overthrow him.
Aladeen is kidnapped and replaced by a hapless double, a naive, filthy goat herder (also played by Cohen) who will do Tamir’s bidding. Tahir secretly wants to become the next supreme leader of Wadiya so he can sell the oil rights to several multinational companies that are willing to pay billions for them.
Aladeen manages to escape and finds himself adrift on the mean streets of New York. He gets a job working at the Free Earth Collective, a health food store run by the ultra-feminist and aggressively green Zoey (a miscast Anna Faris), whom Aladeen calls a “lesbian hobbit”. But romance slowly blossoms between this mismatched pair as she discovers Aladeen’s vulnerable side, which adds a different tone to the humour.
With the help of Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas, from Parks And Recreation, etc), a former nuclear scientist from Wadiyah, Aladeen plots to resume his rightful role as supreme leader of his country. A funny scene has Aladeen and Nadal taking a helicopter ride over New York and talking about Osama Bin Laden, 911, and fireworks in their native tongue, which is misunderstood by an American couple.
Recent appearances in films like Hugo have demonstrated that Cohen is capable of more than just playing cringe-worthy cultural stereotypes, and this is probably his most rounded performance. He has a ball as the eccentric Aladeen, mangling the English language and making inappropriate remarks. Kingsley is given little to do as his duplicitous brother, but brings a sense of authority to his role. And there are plenty of cameo appearances from the likes of John C Reilly, Edward Norton, Garry Shandling, Jim Piddock, Megan Fox and Kathryn Hahn.
Another great comic touch sees Erran Baron Cohen (Sacha Baron Cohen’s brother) remix some popular songs with incomprehensible Wadiyan lyrics. Larry Charles, who has directed Cohen’s previous two features, ensures that the material moves at a fairly quick pace. At a rather brisk 83 minutes, The Dictator is never in danger of outstaying its welcome.
Not since Chaplin made The Great Dictator in 1940 has an actor dared have this much fun while ridiculing a powerful world leader.