Although ‘The Dictator’ removes Sacha Baron Cohen from the ‘Candid Camera’ character roles that’s he’s known for, the movie is still filled with plenty of offensive, boundary-pushing content. By taking a terrorist-friendly dictator and slapping him in the middle of New York City, the edgy possibilities are limitless.
If you know anything about Baron Cohen, you know that he’s a fantastic character actor. Like his style or not, you have to admit that it’s impressive to watch him do the “mockumentary” stuff from ‘Da Ali G Show’, ‘Borat‘ or ‘Bruno‘ that he’s most known for. The characters that he comes up with and the things that he does with them are brilliant – not to mention hilarious (with the exception of the ‘Bruno’ feature film). Even though this is a fully-scripted and acted comedy this time (presumably because he’s too well known now to get away with the ambush pranks anymore), ‘The Dictator’ is no different in that regard.
In ‘The Dictator’, Baron Cohen plays Aladeen, the oppressive leader of a fictional Middle Eastern nation that’s looking to overthrow him with the help of the United Nations. When the U.N. demands that come to New York City and defend himself, his power- and money-hungry uncle (Ben Kingsley) pays a bigot American (played by one of many awesome and surprising cameo-makers) to have him offed so that he can use Aladeen’s body double as a puppet, thus introducing the idea of democracy and capitalism to their nation.
Luckily for Aladeen, the assassination attempt is foiled, but his trademark beard is removed in the process and people no longer recognize him as the dangerous dictator. With the help of a free-spirited hipster (Anna Faris) and a defector, Aladeen has three days to stop his uncle from destroying his dictatorship.
Being scripted, my biggest fear about ‘The Dictator’ was that it wouldn’t be as funny as Baron Cohen’s other material. Fortunately, there are plenty of laughs to keep this 83-minute satirical comedy moving at a brisk pace. Sure, not all of the jokes stick their landings, but they’re not as bad as anything attempted in the last few Adam Sandler movies. On the flip side, the majority of the comedic bits are hysterical. Two separate occasions brought my eyes to tears. To top it off, the satire applied is genius. Aladeen gives a speech at one point that’s one of the biggest slugs in the gut that I’ve seen in a mainstream film in a long time. Hats off to everyone who had the stones to keep these bits in the film.
The social and political commentary isn’t the only edgy aspect of the film, though. The film also has a good amount of vulgarity (including seeing a baby being born from the inside), jokes about Osama bin Laden and 9/11, a quick bit of male nudity (which is quite easy to get through in comparison to that in ‘Borat’) and much more. Only making it more fun are the big-name surprise cameos. Unless you’ve browsed through the IMDb cast credits, you’ll be shocked to see who make appearances, so I’ll refrain from spoiling them.
If, like me, you presumed that ‘The Dictator’ was going to be an unfunny waste of time based on the trailers and television spots, put those ideas aside. The marketing campaign has done a great job of showing you content from the first ten minutes of the movie, but they haven’t shown the movie for what it really is – most likely due to marketing restrictions. If you’ve ever found Sacha Baron Cohen funny, you’ll probably enjoy ‘The Dictator’. If you’ve never given him a shot because of the shock factor that he typically strives for, forget about it. This is Baron Cohen at his most restrained. Yet that doesn’t mean that he can’t still manage to knock some walls down.