‘The Dictator’ Movie Review
There’s one thing you can almost certainly count on when Sacha Baron Cohen is starring in a movie: outrageously offensive material. For some, this makes the film an instant “must-see,” but to others it serves as a warning. With many different forms of humor, Cohen’s Borat character will probably go down as the best. His more recent Brüno personality was met with a lot more criticism. In comparison to these two, Cohen’s The Dictator falls right in the middle. It doesn’t come close to being as outright hilarious as Borat, but it is certainly over-the-top and offensive. Thankfully, it doesn’t rely too much on shock value, which ended up being the downfall to Brüno.
The Dictator, directed by Larry Charles, was inspired by Saddam Hussein’s novel Zabibah and the King, but in an obviously sarcastic way. The fictionalized dictator of Wadiya, Admiral General Aladeen, swears off anything pertaining to democracy. However, when his administration, led by Tamir (Ben Kingsley), swap him out with a body double, Aladeen has to fight his way back to power before democracy takes over.
He befriends a hippie, organic foods seller Zoey (Anna Faris), who tries to help him for the person she thinks he is – not his true sadistic self.
Cohen brings a lot to the table in terms of comedy. His best talent, though, is his ability to ad-lib, which makes Borat such a humor overload. The fact that is was unscripted, thus very “real,” is very impressive. The Dictator changes the formula up, presenting a film that has a more concrete script and plot. Not only is the entire thing scripted, but it shares acting credits (Kingsley, Faris, and John C. Reilly).
Ultimately, this is probably what hurts the film the most. When it becomes offensive (pretty much from the get-go), it isn’t quite as absurdly funny. While Brüno took it too far, The Dictator didn’t really push it at all. Instead, it poked fun at a political situation that isn’t quite as relevant as it was four years ago. I’m not saying we shouldn’t make fun of our foreign policy, I’m just wondering if the timing is really effective.
While the political satire may have worked for some – even if it didn’t for me – I think it’s easier to agree the love story lacked considerably. It’s nothing against Faris necessarily, but it’s just tough to base a character off Saddam Hussein (arguably the greatest villain in American history) that falls in love with an American hippie. I understand the movie is trying to be funny, but it feels like it’s undermining the character Cohen created.
So, I’m nit-picking The Dictator a bit too much. However, I stand by my guns when I point out the inconsistencies in character and story. The script wasn’t necessarily bad, but it made a different kind of movie than we’re used to seeing with Sacha Baron Cohen. The over-the-top and offensive content is definitely still a selling point, but the satire falls flatter when it starts to act like a romantic comedy. There’s a reason Borat never ends up with Pamela Anderson years ago, aptly illustrating why some comedic bits work, while others just simply don’t.
The Dictator isn’t a failure – in fact, critically I seem to be in the minority – but I expected something that wasn’t delivered. It’s not against the rules to change it up, but change should improve the picture. In this case, I’m just not so sure.