Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 83 mins. Reviewed in May 2012
It would be an interesting project to study the body language of audiences watching The Dictator (or Ali G in da House, or Borat or Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous spoofs). This reviewer, watching The Dictator would have been seen to wince, laugh, smile, gasp, blush and look around (well, not for this one since there was only one other person at 2.00 on a Friday afternoon in a large cinema, which didn’t make for an atmosphere of loud guffaws).
How does one review The Dictator? It is easy to say that fastidious audiences need not go. On the other hand, those who are fastidious but enjoy some political and social satire can go and both wince and laugh. Those who enjoy the broadest of humour (and Sacha Baron Cohen, his writers and director, Larry Charles, do seem to be trying in each film to see what they can get away with) should have no difficulty with The Dictator. There are plenty of politically incorrect jokes and some of the most blatant of racist and sexist lines which make one gasp – but which, in fact, do make us confront where we really stand on some issues, and what bias might be lurking below the surface. And, as expected from the past, there are few bodily functions that do not make an appearance (including some farcical shenanigans during a childbirth sequence).
So, that deals with recommendations or not.
The Dictator is a blend of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad with some nods towards Syria. He rules over a North African nation, Waadeya, which is building nuclear weapons (he can hardly keep a straight face when he is denying this in a public speech). He is a despot. Anyone who disagrees with him is sent off to instant execution. He has a loyal second-in-charge, so he thinks, who is played straight by Ben Kingsley. However, when a coup fails, a double is sought out – a dill of a shepherd (also played by Baron Cohen) to be a puppet of the usurper.
But, most of the action takes place in New York where they all go to visit the UN to explain the nuclear situation. When the dictator is ousted from his hotel and has to find his way on the New York streets and, joining in a protest against his tyranny, he is mistaken for a rebel by an enthusiastically naïve young women who owns a green store and is to cater for the UN meeting (Anna Faris).
Plenty of complications as he goes to work at the shop, meets some old associates, plans to infiltrate the UN meeting to stop his rival signing a democracy document which will lead to oil deals. Actually, this gives rise to quite some parody of American attitudes, especially when he makes a speech listing the dangers of democracy (controlled press, wire tapping and a whole range of things that already exist).
The other thing is the verbal humour. The jokes might almost be missed as they pass swiftly by. In Waadeya a favourite film is You’ve Got Mail Bomb. The dictator describes his spiritual journey like an Eat Pray Love experience. Plenty of cultural references for jokes, from George Clooney to those blue creatures in Avatar.
In Borat and Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen infiltrated groups and met individuals as his alter egos, setting them up for some outrageous falls. The Dictator is scripted. So, the safe review is ‘for Sacha Baron Cohen fans only’.
12 Random Films…