out of Five
Running time: 83
A straight narrative comedy rather than the candid camera style antics of Borat and Bruno, The Dictator has a flimsy plot and occasionally misfires but it also delivers several decent laughs (albeit highly offensive ones) and earns extra points for its ruthlessly short running time.
What's it all about?
Directed by Larry Charles, The Dictator stars Sacha Baron Cohen as General Aladeen, the “beloved oppressor” of North African state Wadiya, who finds himself in a diplomatic crisis after giggling while promising his uranium would only be used for clean energy purposes. Forced to travel to the US in order to give a speech at the UN, Aladeen instead finds himself tricked by his duplicitous uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley, largely wasted) and replaced by his own double, an easily manipulated idiot goatherd.
Although Aladeen escapes captivity, he finds that with his beard shaved off, no-one believes he's the rightful dictator of Wadiya, so he ends up penniless on the Manhattan streets, before being rescued by vegetarian food store owner Zoey (Anna Faris). With the help of his former nuclear expert Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), Aladeen schemes to re-replace his own double before an imminent treaty can bring democracy to his country, but he finds himself distracted by his growing feelings for Zoey.
Eschewing the candid camera style comedy set-ups of Borat and Bruno, The Dictator marks a return to straight narrative features for Baron Cohen, though the raging egomaniac fish-out-of-water element is still present and correct (and, in fact, there's one scene that may well have been shot candid camera style, when Aladeen asks a passing police car “How much do you charge for an assassination?”). As a result, the flimsy plot is really just an excuse for a barrage of highly offensive gags, lines (“Are you having a boy or an abortion?”) and comic set-pieces, though it's fair to say that there are several decent laughs along the way and the script does at least get a brilliantly satirical speech in at the end, where Aladeen outlines all the benefits of a dictatorship and describes ... America.
Cohen's comic timing is impeccable and he does a good job as Aladeen, while there's strong comic support from Anna Faris (sporting a “little boy's” haircut) and Jason Mantzoukas (who's very funny as Nadal), as well as a couple of amusing cameos (there's a good running joke about dictators paying to have sex with film stars).
Needless to say, with the script piling the gags this high, it's inevitable that some of them will fall flat and there are several moments (e.g. a baby delivery scene) that don't work. Similarly, the character doesn't feel as well thought out as Baron Cohen's previous creations, particularly in regard to his speech patterns and vocal quirks.
The Dictator is a gleefully offensive and frequently funny comedy that delivers more hits than misses, though it could have done with a little bit more of a satirical edge.