Review: The Dictator
PLOT: On his way to deliver a speech at the UN, Admiral General Aladeen (Sasha Baron-Cohen)- the dictator of Wadiya, is usurped by his uncle (Ben Kingsley), and finds himself alone in New York. In order to reclaim his dictatorship, Aladeen teams with a dissident scientist (Jason Mantzoukas) and a liberated, Vegan grocery story owner (Anna Faris) in order to reclaim his throne.
REVIEW: THE DICTATOR is Sasha Baron Cohen's third teaming with director Larry Charles, following BORAT & BRUNO. Like those two films, THE DICTATOR is character-based comedy, with Cohen's Aladeen being yet another wildly politically incorrect caricature. However, unlike the last two films where Cohen- in semi-mockumentary form, used the characters to reveal our own North American prejudices by the way regular folks just accepted them at face value and interacted with them- THE DICTATOR is far more of a traditional comedy.
I suppose this was inevitable, as Cohen's star has risen to such an extent that, phony beards or no, people are bound to recognize him. This gimmick was stretched to the breaking point in BRUNO- but how does Cohen fare in a straight-forward film? Actually- this is not the first time one of his characters was spun off into a conventional comedy, with 2002's ALI G IN DA HOUSE having been done in a similar fashion due to that character's immense fame in Cohen's native Britain.
Like that film, the results here are mixed at best, although I'd say this is still far better than that film ended up being. However, it's certainly no BORAT- despite what the similarities of the characters, or the trailers, might have you believe. Running a grand total of eighty minutes (with credits), THE DICTATOR is probably more inconsistent than it should be, but when it's funny it's DAMN funny.
Certainly, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud jokes here, thanks to Cohen's total emergence into the character, which once again proves that he's probably the finest character-based comic actor since Peter Sellers. While a despotic dictator is probably a bit of a hard-sell if you're trying to make a comedy Cohen makes it work. Like all of his films, Cohen wants to shock and offend, and while there's plenty of raunch (including a hilariously wrong bit about Aladeen having had his way with the Latin boy band Menudo), for the first time- Cohen seems to pull back a bit. At times, THE DICTATOR almost plays it safe, and despite the potential for political satire here, it's not as smart a film as it should be.
Still, for the most part THE DICTATOR is still pretty funny, and while a few jokes fall flat- they're so rapid fire that even if only 1 in 3 hits, you're still laughing more than you will at most films. In addition to Cohen, the other great comic performance comes from THE LEAGUE's Jason Mantzoukas, as the dissident nuclear scientist who tries to help Aladeen. Mantzoukas gets a lot of the big laughs here- and his chemistry with Cohen is excellent, with a highlight being when the two crash a Harlem wedding (complete with Cohen being decked out like SUPERFLY) that has a funny payoff that becomes a recurring joke.
As for female lead Anna Faris- she's OK, but her role seems to have been downplayed a bit in favor of more Mantzoukas- but it works well enough. There's also a couple of really funny celeb cameos, including a funny bit by Megan Fox that's been spoiled in all the trailers.
So- as it is, THE DICTATOR is a pretty funny flick, but nowhere near the standard set by BORAT- despite Cohen's best efforts. Maybe it's just that the one-joke premise couldn't quite sustain a feature, but I think the real problem is that the movie lacks bite, and most importantly- balls (although in a strictly literal sense- there are actually lots of balls in this). Still, at times I laughed myself silly- so I guess that means it did it's job.
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|Extra Tidbit:||I hope Cohen's next is the long-gestating Freddie Mercury biopic.|