After incarnations as everybody’s favourite junglist from Staines, the world’s most famous Kazakh and a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista, Sacha Baron Cohen returns in his latest guise of Supreme Leader Admiral General Aladeen of Wadiya. Regurgitating a formula that threatens to tire, The Dictator is a tour de force in absolute silliness.
Gadaffi and Sadame with a sprinkling of Bin Laden and Kim Jong-il, General Aladeen is a composite dictator of a fictitious oil-rich nation called Wadiya. Machiavellian in a frivolous, buffoonish sort of way, he lovingly oppresses his people. From sentencing deaths on a whim for accidentally walking in his way to prostituting Megan Fox, this despot is menacingly puerile. Misadventure ensues when, after opposition from the United Nations, our autocrat is forced to travel to New York to denounce democracy. His right-hand man – the power hungry Tamir (Ben Kingsley, bizarrely) – plots a scheme where a bumbling doppelganger will declare social equality, and therefore oil for America, in his place.
Without demeaning the unequivocal horror of dictatorial regime The Dictator pokes fun at the absurdities of international politics. To call a film so committed to obscene tom-foolery multi-layered satire would be misjudged, but just as the archetypal dictator is lampooned (after all it’s dedicated to Kim Jong-il), so is the hypocrisy of United States egalitarianism – at one point Aladeen lists Dick Cheney alongside Bin Laden as one of the people he most admires. In fact, everyone is a target. Overtly liberal vegan, environmentalist types particularly get a grilling when Aladeen is forced to befriend Zoey (Anna Faris) after being replaced by his double.The two haplessly fall in love in a scene of grotesque hilarity that features, very prominently, a pregnant woman’s vagina.
Baron Cohen has once again teamed up with director Larry Charles and, although the mockumentary elements of Borat and Brüno have been purged, the feel is all very familiar. The plot is tethered together to incorporate joke after joke and crude set-pieces, all with the aim of creating unfalteringly brazen comedy. Needless to say this is far removed from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. It is a film compiled of relentless waves of politically incorrectness, but with a tongue so firmly in cheek that a bulbous ulcer would form. The gags are a mish-mash of hits and misses but at only 84 minutes long there are enough funny jabs to keep viewers steadily amused. Those easily offended should probably stay clear.
Following last year’s Arab Spring, The Dictator is a timely spoof of an already illogical world of bunga bunga parties where strangely tangible caricatures somehow rise to positions of authoritarian power. If you are after a few laughs you won’t do too much worse than joining the cult of Aladeen.
Best performance: The perennial prankster Sacha Baron Cohen.
Best scene: Aladeen takes a helicopter ride around Manhattan with some American tourists and inadvertently references September 11 by discussing a 911 Porsche.
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