The Dictator Review
Sacha Baron Cohen has come along away from Ali G, but only in some respects. His characters are more extreme and more offensive, but the humour has remained based upon creating racial stereotypes and highlighting the more obscure aspects of their behaviour. For this outing – in many ways the sequel to Borat rather than Bruno, Cohen has created a Middle Eastern Arabic dictator. Admiral General Aladeen is the hereditary successor to the leadership of the fictional country of Wadiya to his despotic father and came to power aged just seven. He therefore has no experience of real life, having lived in his golden bubble, surrounded by his female “virgin” security guards, political figures and various assorted hangers on. He models himself on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and mourns his passing. To call Aladeen incompetent would be putting it too mildly. His main aim in life is to own a nuclear weapon, but fortunately for the rest of the world, his scientists are as inept as he is. As with all dictators, everything he does and owns is in vast proportions to the scale it needs to be. From his huge palace to gold plated armoured cars, it’s just done to excess, all fuelled by massive oil wealth. Humorous anecdotes include awarding himself film and sporting awards, claiming he invented all sorts of everyday items and changing half the words in the Wadyian language to Aladeen, including positive and negative and open and closed! As expected, many people want him dead, so just in case his personal body guards fail, he has a string of body doubles to take the bullet for him.
The first part of the film is essentially a character explanation, brought through spoof news reports before moving into the film proper. There is not really a lot of depth to the character, so this does not take long. High points include his sex scene with Megan Fox – “Grunt, Grunt, You have Herpes” and his tiny little nuclear weapon, standing just three feet tall. The main point to pick up however is that Aladeen is taking his entourage to New York to deliver a two day speech to the UN. This first part of the film is quite funny in parts and is less offensive than some later segments, unless of course you are a despotic dictator...
As the action moves to New York, the silliness continues. Aladeen takes over most of a swanky hotel, having it redecorated in his personal style and then gets outraged by the $20 per day charge for internet and commands his staff not to touch the mini-bars “Because they are such a rip off” Aladeen’s US assigned security chief turns out to be just as racist and homophobic as the great leader himself. With so much in common, how could he possibly be a threat? When Aladeen wakes up tied to a chair in a deserted factory he realises that it just got serious. With a selection of torture implements at his side, the chief is looking forward to giving Aladeen a long, painful death. His fun is spoiled however as the dictator dismisses the tools as second hand and with missing parts. Instead the chief cuts off and tries to burn Aladeen’s trademark bushy beard and the ensuing inferno gives him the opportunity to escape. Without his beard and dressed in clothes borrowed from a vagrant, Aladeen finds himself excluded from his hotel and ends up on the wrong side of the security cordon and believed dead by his fellow countryman. Befriended by feminist, pacifist, androgynous Zoey (Anna Farris) he now finds himself being treated as a political refugee. He accepts her offer of work in her community vegetable, pulse and lentil shop, but finds that his sexist, racist, misogynistic views are out of step with pretty much everybody else in the world. Anna Farris is a good foil to the excesses of Cohen’s character. Almost as extreme, but in the other direction, she effortlessly delivers the set ups for yet more offensive humour.
We cannot go much further without mentioning Ben Kingsley as the uncle and probably true successor to the dictatorship; Tamir. Quite how he was persuaded to do the film is a mystery. He is not your natural first choice as Cohen’s straight man, but does bring a little gravitas to the role and plays it with dignity. Not something that can be levelled at any other member of the cast.
With Aladeen learning how to be a member of the human race – including how to ermm… pleasure himself, Tamir using one of Aladeen’s body doubles as a stooge and imposing democracy on Wadiya in order to unlock the oil wealth, the film all starts to feel a bit safe by Cohen’s standards. Not to worry, a helicopter ride with a couple of paranoid American tourists gives us plenty of borderline unacceptable humour to raise an eyebrow at. I am no prude, but making fun of America’s paranoia about further 9/11 type attacks is too close to the knuckle for me. Some have suggested he is making a joke out of the attacks themselves, but this is not the case. It still feels insensitive and unnecessary.
So having reorganised the shop staff, delivered a baby and been taught a few moral values, Aladeen needs a kick in the other direction. This is supplied by his ex-nuclear head scientist who Aladeen thought he had sentenced to death, but along with the rest of the condemned, had actually been smuggled out of the country to live in exile in New York. Now employed as an Apple Genius, Omar discovers that Tamir’s intentions are not entirely healthy for the country and despite his hatred of Aladeen, recognises he offers the best alternative. He helps to replace Aladeen’s beard, even though the dictator insists he cannot wear an artificial hair piece and so they must steal the real McCoy from an elder statesman. This scene is funny, sick and only a bit offensive and is one of the better parts of the movie.
The scene is now set for Aladeen to make his dramatic entrance, save the country and marry his most unlikely suitor. More bawdy and crude humour follows, including the wedding back in Wadiya. Cue the cheesy music and the credits roll.
I hope by now you get the idea that the film script is just a vehicle to get from one set piece of poor taste to another. There are a few moments of real original humour, but everything else is just predictable and deliberately provocative. The music is stereotypical, many of the sets look half dressed and the camera work boring. There are signs that Cohen has grown up a little bit, but it is not as good as Borat in so many respects.