Sacha Baron Cohen, the comic genius behind Borat and Bruno, turns his attention to the Arab Spring, playing a merciless dictator in his latest comedy vehicle
Ali G, Borat, Bruno – Sacha Baron Cohen has created some memorable comic characters over the years, made even funnier by the fact that they interact with real people, revealing their hidden prejudices in the process. Unfortunately General Admiral Aladeen – Cohen’s latest creation, does not reach the comedic heights of his earlier characters. The Dictator is Cohen’s weakest effort to date.
Unlike Borat and Bruno, which were largely unscripted and relied on the spontaneous response of the public to generate a lot of the humour, The Dictator is totally scripted, with a clearly delineated plot. Admiral Aladeen, leader of the fictional North African Republic of Wadiya, comes to the USA to address the UN Security Council – who have threatened military intervention unless his country immediately ceases its nuclear weapons program.
Once in America things quickly go pear shaped, as Aladeen is kidnapped and replaced by a body-double, part of a sinister plot by his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley), who hopes to overthrow him and get rich off Wadiya’s oil rights. Left for dead, Aladeen finds himself working for a vegan left-wing extremist (Anna Faris) at her organic grocery store, where he plots his return to the throne.
There are a number of funny cameos in the film, especially from Megan Fox and Edward Norton but overall I can count the amount of belly-laughs on one hand. Portraying a fundamentalist Islamic dictator gives Cohen plenty of material, but he largely plays it safe – only really crossing the line on a tourist heli-trip across the New York skyline, the 9/11 jokes perhaps too much for some.
The distinct lack of laughs has three main causes – a lack of spontaneity due to a move away from non-scripted material, a marketing campaign that over-saturated its audience and a formula that is getting a little tired. Seriously, the marketing blitz has been coming at us since before the Oscars! I had seen almost every gag in the film before entering the theatre. Even the ones I hadn’t seen did not break from the (predictable) mould developed in Cohen’s earlier works.
Thankfully, the final act saves the film from being a complete disappointment, as Cohen offers some pointed political commentary on life in America post 9/11, post financial meltdown. As Aladeen inadvertently points out, present-day USA is really not that far from living under a totalitarian state. It’s all too little too late though, and The Dictator will go down as one of Cohen’s lesser works.
2 1/2 Stars