I didn’t watch Sacha Baron Cohen’s last cinematic outing as Brüno (sometimes one just needs time, and distance) so I figured I would be ready for whatever he had to dish out as Aladeen in The Dictator.
I was right, and I was wrong.
The trailers for The Dictator did a good job of making it look funnier than his previous film. Sadly the trailers told only half the truth. The Dictator is funny, in bits. Like a sketch comedy show, or little YouTube clips.
As a movie? Not so much.
The story (if we must call it that) is about a dictator—the ruler of a fictional African nation called Wadiya—who is betrayed by his right hand man Tamir (Ben Kingsley) while they are on a trip to the US.
Tamir is motivated by greed and anger (he was actually the rightful heir to the throne of Wadiya) which makes him the bad guy. And Aladeen is motivated by an ingrained desire to oppress a people so he is…yeah, I don’t think I can use any version of the word good to complete this thought.
This is comedy through the Baron Cohen lens which means that he covers all the bases—the gold vehicles, the body doubles, the degradation of women, the willy-nilly orders for execution of anyone who offends him—in his quest for moments that make audiences laugh. But when he seeks to make us uncomfortable about the things we take for granted he comes off like a freshman college student seeking world peace through farcical comedy.
I can see how this movie wouldn’t play well at all in the politically-correct parts of the world. But I also think it doesn’t work because the doofus-meets-girl-of-his-dreams-and-reforms routine really doesn’t work in this avatar.
In Borat his journey held a tremendous sense of ‘what will this moron do next?’ which is sorely missing in The Dictator. And Anna Faris as the activist free-spirit who takes Aladeen in when he is transformed into a nobody (by the shaving of his beard), really doesn’t gain any sympathy.
The bit with Megan Fox (playing herself, kind of) is funny for the words the writers get her to say. Some of that physical stuff is also funny (kicking the kid, tossing the trashcan out into the street, slapping the obnoxious customer), but we already saw it in the trailers. The Wadiyan versions of really famous songs are also quite amusing (I wonder whether Aladeen sang them all as well). But, the formula of a politically incorrect man attempting to straddle the fine line between gross-out and ha-ha-hilarious is not as effective as it was that one time.
Perhaps it’s time for Mr. Cohen to put on the fake teeth and play somebody really outrageous for a change.
Know what I mean?