‘The Dictator’ Movie Review (2012)

The Dictator movie review
Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Sacha Baron Cohen cuts to the heart of the matter when it comes to the stupidity, ignorance and hypocrisy of governmental policy in his new political satire The Dictator. He’s pushed aside his “punking” techniques as used in Borat and Bruno and delivers a scripted comedy that’s light on narrative flow, but heavy on laughs.

Opening with a dedication to the late North Korean supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, there is no mistaking Cohen’s intentions. This is a straight jab at the heart of politics across the world and it’s done so almost to a point where it becomes more of a sad state of affairs than comedy. Sitting in your seat, in on the joke, you could just as easily assume (and most likely should) that Cohen is making just as much fun of us as he is those we call our leaders.

Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, dictator of the fictional north African country Wadiya, who rules his country with an iron fist. He orders beheadings at the drop of a hat and any words that may prove detrimental to his cause are either abolished or changed to “Aladeen”, a confusing result to be sure when you consider words such as “positive,” “negative,” “open” and “closed”. As stupid as it sounds, it’s a joke that actually works more than once.

When Aladeen isn’t oppressing his people or paying celebrities for sex (Megan Fox makes an appearance as herself, poking fun at celebs paid to attend international functions held by questionable leaders) he is announcing his country is only months away from enriching uranium (for peaceful purposes of course). His decision to be so brazen with his accomplishments proves, however, to be a wrong move as pressure from overseas is at an all-time high and, along with that, a resistance is forming under his nose.

Through a series of events, during a trip to New York, Aladeen is kidnapped, his beard is shaved off and he is left virtually “unrecognizable”, lost and alone. Unbeknownst to anyone, his place as supreme leader has been taken by his goat-herding double (also played by Cohen) and his treasonous right-hand man and uncle (Ben Kingsley) has negotiated a deal to write a new constitution for Wadiya, one that would turn the country into a democracy and open its oil fields for business.

Aladeen must find a way to stop the signing from taking place and return to his rightful position as leader of Wadiya and ensure his country’s people never live under a blanket of freedom. It’s one of the most outlandish hero journeys you’re likely to see and you’re going to laugh a lot, but it’s best to focus on the jokes and less on the weak story tying them together.

Anna Faris is one of the film’s small asides, playing a feminist, organic grocer who takes Aladeen in, before realizing who he really is. Most of the comedy surrounding her involves Aladeen’s referring to her as a little boy or licking her hairy armpits.

John C. Reilly gets to have a little fun early on and even Edward Norton is seen in a small, unexpected cameo appearance that is sure to generate a chuckle out of the audience. However, this is Cohen’s film through and through as he joins forces with his thought-to-be-beheaded nuclear expert Nadal (a very entertaining Jason Mantzoukas) and scurries around New York inciting fear in a pair of helicopter tourists and insulting everyone he can along the way.

I don’t think there’s ever been any confusion over Cohen’s intelligence and he shows a lot of wit here with his jokes, but subtlety has never been his forte, and in this case that’s entirely the point. He has found a way to work out his frustration with everything from governmental policy to the cost of wireless Internet in hotels into this feature and his final speech is anything but on the nose as he lays down what it would mean for America to become a dictatorship only to reveal nothing would need to be changed.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Cohen film if it didn’t search for ways to also cross the line to the point the line becomes a blur, I need no other example than his cell phone conversation while his mobile is trapped in the vagina of a pregnant woman. With The Dictator, racial stereotypes are obliterated and no one is safe, but it’s all part of the fun. Just don’t look for a very good story and enjoy each little “skit” along the way.



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