Do you find rape, murder, oppression, and gross ignorance hilarious? The Dictator hopes you do.
His Excellency, Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), supreme ruler of the Republic of Wadiya, is ordered to appear before “the jackals” who run the so-called United Nations. It seems Aladeen is intent on developing nuclear weapons and, of course, refuses to let UN inspectors in to see if he’s really about to do so. Unfortunately, the world’s last dictator has envious enemies around every corner, and a vile betrayal in New York City finds Aladeen on the streets, penniless, and unrecognizable. When a local activist (Anna Faris) takes him in out of pity, Aladeen is given the means to take back his regime, but will he still be the kind of kindly, iron-fist ruler his beloved oppressed people have come to pretend to love?
Most Americans know comedic actor Sacha Baron Cohen as the voice of King Julian in the Madagascar movies, but they may also know him as Ali G, Borat, Bruno, and a host of other egotists who are so distinctly different that they are virtually unrecognizable as the same person. Cohen is a brilliantly metamorphic comedian that is rarely ever caught breaking character, but one similarity that most of the characters demonstrate is a complete disregard for anyone outside of their closed-off little worlds. Where most of Cohen’s films exploit non-actors falling for his ruse, this dictator has been banished to one of those flash-in-the-pan SNL movies, the ones that probably sounded funnier on paper and where the filmmakers had more fun than their intended audience.
If a character is clueless that the despicable things they do are truly heinous, is there any way they can be redeemed, even in the name of comedy? The first atrocity committed by The Dictator is trying to force a fish-out-of-water stock plot where our “hero” eventually realizes (over a girl) what an ass he’s been. Unfortunately, it’s tough to absolve someone who believes they’ve been born to the rights reserved for Egyptian Pharaohs as an excuse to sodomize boy bands and lament over how long it’s been since visiting a rape camp. If these kinds of references are meant to be humorous because of the cluelessness of the main character, they too often fall short. Any viewers with a sensitivity to these subjects (isn’t rape hilarious?!) should steer clear of this film.
The story itself lacks any believable flow from one event to the next; you can practically see the gaps in continuity on the screen, and it’s distracting. There’s also a political subtext to the storyline, culminating in a clever speech that’s fully self-aware. In between these stretches, however, a few gems of hilarity can be found in places you’d least expect. These R-rated bits are everything they couldn’t spoil in the trailers, and it isn’t as much as one would hope considering the film’s less than ninety minute running time. Even poor Ben Kingsley seems out of sorts by the entire thing, essentially reduced to reprising his role from Prince of Persia.
Interestingly, Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan covers most of the stereotype and racial observations presented herein (and with a few of the same actors) as well as being a sharply more entertaining film as a whole. Still, there were things that worked for The Dictator, such as Bobby Lee’s Mr. Lao (a man of many appetites), a couple of celebrity cameos, a soundtrack littered with re-imagined-yet-recognizable songs revolving around Aladeen himself, all the outtakes at the end of the credits, a birthing scene you won’t believe they made, and every heated conversation between Aladeen and his royal bomb maker (it might have been a better film just to have those two verbally assaulting one another for the running time). Both regrettable and forgettable, the best bits are really the free publicity stunts Cohen has been spreading around as the title character, but you don’t have to waste a ticket price to enjoy those.
(a one and a half skull out of four recommendation)