What a disappointment The Dictator is. It's not just bad for a Sacha Baron Cohen movie (whose previous output is mostly inspired and set a high bar); it's bad for any comedy. It's also a bad movie. I won't go so far as to say that Cohen has "lost it," but between the incredibly uneven Bruno and now The Dictator, he has certainly gotten off track.
Cohen stars as Admiral General Aladeen, the ruthless dictator of the fictional North African Republic of Wadiya. When he travels to U.N. headquarters in New York City for a nuclear arms summit, Aladeen's uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) plots to overthrow him, hiring an assassin to take him out and replacing him with a dim-witted double (also played by Cohen). Aladeen escapes his attacker and, stripped of his identity, hides out in NYC, teaming up with a super-liberal supermarket owner (played by Anna Faris) and a former Wadiyan scientist (Jason Mantzoukas) to infiltrate the U.N. and reclaim his seat as the ruler of Wadiya.
In the past, Cohen's comedy -- from Da Ali G Show to the massively successful Borat and the aforementioned Bruno -- has depended on the comedian disappearing deep into characters and interacting with an unsuspecting public. It was terrific satire, exposing people's worst prejudices simply by giving them enough rope with which to hang themselves. In The Dicatator, Cohen has gone a different way; like his first feature film, Ali G Indahouse, this is an entirely "fictional" movie, in which he interacts only in scripted scenes with other professional actors. The end result is somewhat similar, in that he's playing a "foreign" character who comes to America and misunderstands pretty much everything, wreaking havoc and offending anyone with whom he comes in contact. The only difference is that this time around, everyone is in on the joke.
It also appears that a great deal was left on the cutting room floor -- that is, unless appearances from comedians like JB Smoove and Jessica St. Claire were meant to be little more than brief cameos. Garry Shandling shows up at one point and doesn't even get to utter a single line of dialogue. This is the kind of comedy that was clearly constructed in the editing room, which goes a long way towards explaining its patchy pacing and uneven, episodic plotting.
Cohen is still a gifted comic performer, and I'm happy to see him attempting to evolve -- there wasn't much gas left in the Borat-style "prank" tank. But, The Dicator, while different in some ways, feels like an imitation of Sacha Baron Cohen.
- The Dictator is rated R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images.
- Release Date: 5/16/12
- Running Time: 83 minutes