Film Review: ‘The Dictator’

May 16, 2012 8:55am

We’re going to keep this review short and to the point because I don’t want to give away the best jokes in “The Dictator.”  And when I started writing, I realized that’s what I was doing.  So let’s stick to the basics.

Sacha Baron Cohen is Admiral General Aladeen, the tyrannical dictator of the Wadiya, a fake North African country sitting on a hefty supply of oil Aladeen refuses to sell. On top of that, he’s trying to build a nuclear weapon and the whole world knows it. Aladeen has enough money to fly movie stars to Wadiya for sex: I won’t reveal who we see in bed with him but trust me, it’s funny.

When the United Nations demands Aladeen’s presence in New York to clear the air about his nuclear energy program, he takes with him his trusted right-hand man and uncle, Tamir, played by Ben Kingsley, but it turns out Tamir really is not to be trusted. Aladeen also has a body double whose sole purpose in life is take a bullet for his supreme leader. Of course, Baron Cohen plays his own body double, a casting decision that’s kind of genius.

Once in New York, Aladeen is abducted by a rogue security guard (John C. Reilly) who shaves off Aladeen’s enormous beard, making him completely unrecognizable — so much so that once he escapes, it’s impossible for him to return to his hotel or the U.N. because nobody believes he’s Aladeen.  As fate would have it, Aladeen meets Zoey (Anna Farris) a left-wing feminist who manages a food co-op in Brooklyn and who’s the perfect “straight man” for Baron Cohen’s extremely politically incorrect humor. Then enter Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas, of HBO’s “Enlightened”), the man once in charge of Aladeen’s nuclear weapons program, until Aladeen had him killed.  As it turns out…actually, I don’t want to spoil things by telling you how it turns out.  I do want to tell you that Mantzoukas, an under-appreciated comedy veteran, not only holds his own against Baron Cohen, he steals entire scenes from him.

Cohen’s habit is to do press as his characters.  Frankly, I consider that not only a distraction but also unnecessary, especially since Cohen often repeats some of the movie’s funnier bits and jokes, spoiling them.  So, points off for that.  And while “The Dictator” isn’t the funniest or the most shocking of Cohen’s three major releases (although like Borat and Brüno, he brings the shocks and the humor), it does contain what might be one of the most intelligent scenes we see all year in any film: a satirical speech to members of the international community in which Aladeen extols the benefits of dictatorship, in the process reflecting the climate in our own country. It’s a shining moment for Sacha Baron Cohen and a nice payoff for the audience who, up until that point, will have experienced inconsistent, though spirited, fits of laughter.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

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