Genres:Comedy Running Time:1 hour 23 minutes Release Date:May 16, 2012 MPAA Rating:R (for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images)
Cast And Credits
Sacha Baron Cohen, Jason Mantzoukas, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer, Dave Mandel
As you may already know â€” since most of the prerelease publicity has been done in character â€” Sacha Baron Cohenâ€™s latest comic avatar is Admiral General Aladeen, despot of Wadiya, a fictitious North African country, and the subject of â€œThe Dictator.â€ Aladeen, whose desert nation is a gilded monument to his own vanity, is a (perhaps only slightly) exaggerated cartoon of strongmen like Muammar el-Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, but with certain identifying features strategically blurred.
The Supreme Leader of Wadiya â€” aka Sacha Baron Cohen â€” shares his worldview, including his feelings about Ryan Seacrest and Whitney Houston. Related
Mr. Baron Cohen, center, plays Admiral General Aladeen, while Ben Kingsley, left, plays his uncle, and John C. Reilly, right, an American agent. â€œI am not an Arab,â€ he says at one point, and â€œThe Dictator,â€ directed by Larry Charles, carefully avoids references to Islam. Is this precaution enough to prevent the movie from giving offense? Probably not. But it may be enough to turn the tables on anyone who decides to take offense, which is really the point.
There is nothing especially outrageous here. The movieâ€™s blend of self-aware insult humor, self-indulgent grossness, celebrity cameos and strenuous whimsy represents a fairly standard recipe for sketch-comedy-derived feature films. Mr. Baron Cohen, a nimble performer, long of face and limb, is like a cross between a camel and a chameleon. He seems capable of an almost infinite range of voices and appearances, all of them outlandish, and all of them at least potentially funny.
That potential is mostly squandered in â€œThe Dictator,â€ which gestures halfheartedly toward topicality and, with equal lack of conviction, toward pure, anarchic silliness. Aladeen, having alarmed the world with his human-rights abuses and his nuclear ambitions, is summoned to New York to address the United Nations.
There, thanks to the scheming of his Uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) and the ministrations of an American agent (an uncredited John C. Reilly), he finds himself replaced by a moronic double (also Mr. Baron Cohen) and forced to wander the streets like an ordinary nobody. He meets a wide-eyed activist named Zoey (Anna Faris), who gives him a job at her food co-op, and finds a sidekick (Jason Mantzoukas), who used to be one of Wadiyaâ€™s top scientists.
All of which would be fine if the jokes were better. There are a few good ones, but many more that feel half-baked and rehashed. There is, for example, a long scene in a restaurant frequented by Wadiyan refugees in which Aladeen, hoping not to be recognized, invents a series of false names for himself.
Each name is a crazy mispronunciation of a sign in the restaurant â€” â€œLadiesâ€™ Wash Room,â€ and the like â€” and every time he comes up with a new one, the camera pans over to the sign, just to make sure we understand whatâ€™s going on. And in case weâ€™re slow on the uptake, the waiter (Fred Armisen) keeps insisting, â€œThatâ€™s a made-up name.â€ The joke is repeated at least four times.
Either this is the kind of meta-gag that tries to milk a laugh out of its own failure, or it represents a profound lack of confidence in both the material and the audience. Either way: So what?
Occasional attempts at post-Sept. 11 political satire fall just as flat, and supplying Aladeen with a love interest forces Mr. Baron Cohen to try sincerity, something for which he has no particular aptitude. Since women in his comic universe exist to be made fun of, rather than to be funny, Ms. Farisâ€™s talents are pretty much wasted. Zoey is the target of Aladeenâ€™s abuse, and also of the filmâ€™s scattershot misogyny, which is, like the dictator himself, conveniently disguised. When Aladeen calls her a â€œlesbian Hobbitâ€ or recoils at the sight of her unshaved armpits, weâ€™re really laughing at what a jerk he is. Arenâ€™t we? Sure we are.
Unlike his precursors BrÃ¼no, Borat and Ali G, Admiral General Aladeen is not meant to fool anyone into thinking that he is real, so viewers are denied the full measure of smugness that is Mr. Baron Cohenâ€™s special gift to bestow. In the earlier projects (â€œDa Ali G Showâ€ and the movies â€œBoratâ€ and â€œBrÃ¼noâ€), viewers were invited to chuckle at the appalling idiocy of Mr. Baron Cohenâ€™s characters and also at the stupidity of the suckers who took his buffoonery at face value.
When Borat, the cretin of Kazakhstan, carried a bag of his own feces to the table at a genteel dinner party, the joke lay both in the outrageousness of his behavior and, somehow, in the dismayed â€” yet still curiously polite â€” reaction of his American hosts. We could laugh at his grossness, secure in the knowledge that we werenâ€™t really xenophobic because we were also sneering at the fools falling for the trick. Dumb hicks. Dumb foreigners. Thank goodness weâ€™re not bigots like them!
As repellent as this logic may be in retrospect, it at least provided a queasy jolt of excitement. Something â€” sensitivity, good taste, the nonaggression pact between comedians and the public â€” was being put at risk. And there was, beyond the nervy displays of satirical hostility, a dimension of goofy absurdism that sometimes (more in â€œBoratâ€ than in â€œBrÃ¼noâ€) approached the level of sublimity. Very little of that happens here, and the main insult of â€œThe Dictatorâ€ is how lazy it is.