Title: The Dictator
Director(s): Larry Charles
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Sacha Baron Cohen has made a name for himself by creating characters like Ali G, Borat, and Bruno, then placing them in the most awkward of situations and letting the scene play out naturally. The reason this is both important and funny is because it shows society’s insecurities with race, sexual orientation, and gender. Watching Borat for the first time was a great experience and it’s a movie that I definitely can see myself watching again, and someday I will finally watch Bruno and enjoy that as well. Unfortunately, I will probably never see The Dictator again. I appreciate what Cohen was attempting to do with the film, but his execution was flawed, despite having some brief moments of hilarity and having created another great character for him to play, in General Aladeen.
The reason this movie falls short of it’s goals is not because it’s a bad premise. The idea of a dictator coming to North America and being replaced by a look-a-like who is directed to sign a constitution declaring Wadiya (his home country) a democratic society, is good. It has the potential to be a very funny movie. The problem is that the humor used in the movie becomes so overused, very quickly, with no time to breathe between jokes. Sometimes the jokes go on for far too long and for things that just aren’t funny (are we still making fun of bombs that are pointy?), and then other times there are just unnecessary elements that are neither funny nor important. One such instance is a female bodyguard that has large breasts and can beat someone with them. There’s a random fight sequence that reveals her nipples and not only does it make for uncomfortable viewing, but it’s also just not funny. Borat has tons of these types of sequences that are uncomfortable, but the difference being that they are actually funny. This is the main fault of The Dictator: it tries to bring the same kind of humor that made Borat and Bruno funny, to a film that is completely scripted.
Perhaps Cohen felt that his jokes were really funny, and at times he’s right. Unfortunately, they are so few and far between that it’s hard to really appreciate them, and they’re immediately swept away by an incredibly lesser joke. The difference between what Cohen was doing before and this film, is that Cohen has never been making the jokes. He lays the groundwork for one, and then lets the situation play out, with a little coaxing from him. The Dictator is completely scripted, and so it does away with any aspects of his previous films and gives more control to Cohen to make us laugh. Maybe if the movie didn’t rely so heavily on racism and Aladeen not understanding civil societies, then there could have been a good film here. Instead, we get another weak comedy to add to the pile for the year.
But not everything in this film is disappointing. Anna Faris actually plays her character decently, much better than I expected, but she has unfortunately been typecast in the same role as she’s had since Scary Movie. Then there’s General Aladeen, a character that definitely could have been so much more and if it was another person playing him, then perhaps the movie could have gotten away with being unscripted but probably have to be set somewhere else. I understand the reason to go scripted for this movie, but it’s only really to retain Cohen as the main character, something that isn’t absolutely necessary. A telemarketer is given lines to use in specific situations all the time, and if Cohen simply put together the situations and gave the actor his potential lines to memorize, the movie could have been unscripted. I would also say Ben Kingsley does a good job in his role, but he basically just plays the same character he played in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Since we are re-using the same racist jokes over again, I guess we can re-use characters as well, right?
The Dictator definitely had potential to be a good film, but instead it’s just going to be forgotten after the year is over. To say that Sacha Baron Cohen should stop writing films is ridiculous, because he definitely still has the talent to create the bare bones of a comedy. However, it will take the willingness to step away from the spotlight, for him to get back to the level of quality he was doing pre-Dictator. There are still many things that can be said about society and their opinions on things, and Cohen has never been shy from going into taboo territory. We live in a society now where Lena Dunham and Louis C.K. have become huge names, and they provide the same style of uncomfortable humor that Cohen was doing previously, albeit theirs is scripted but still planted in reality. So for Cohen to start doing scripted over-the-top gross-out humor is a step backwards from where society is headed comedy-wise.
Overall: Not Recommended