May 22, 2012 by Zack
There seems to be something missing from Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedies since the 2006 smash hit “Borat”. While for the most part I still enjoyed “Bruno”, I felt that he was imposing his agenda to “expose stupid Americans” more and more and hitting you over the head with stupid comedy rather than allowing the comedy to just happen. He takes this to a new level with “The Dictator”, a film so full of comic exposition that it gets rather tiring even at only 83 minutes of Cohen constantly efforting us to “get it”.
The film’s plot, which is as thin as you could possibly use as an excuse to make a feature length film, is simple: tyrannical despot who is unaware of how brutish he is, goes to America after being discovered to be having a possible nuclear plot against us, gets duped by his own assistant (Ben Kingsley) and he’s attacked, beard shaved, and stuck in NYC with no identity. He meets a vegan hipster played typically over the top by Anna Faris (who seems to can’t ever help winking at the camera even if she doesn’t bat an eyelash), and she reforms him and tries to get him to a summit to stop his body double from making a mistake in making Wadiya the next oil country for the world. There’s a bit more to it but you can immediately see where the movie’s going at every turn. To say it’s predictable is a bit of an insult to predictability. If that makes sense.
Cohen tries to blur a line to see if we can understand what he’s parodying. For instance, his character resembles someone Middle Eastern–yet he’s actually North African. The fictional country Wadiya is located in the area that contains some Arab heritage, yet his character Admiral General Aladeen is not Arab. In the film’s funniest scene, he and his former nuclear scientist Nadal speak in their native language in a helicopter confusing the poor dumb American tourists about a possible follow up 9/11 plot that winds up getting them both arrested. We’re not really sure what language it is, but it sounds “Arabic”, and we could easily mistake them for that.
That scene works so well because for that moment, Cohen isn’t trying to tell us what he’s doing. He’s just doing it. There are many scenes in which characters talk and talk, and they ramble about what is right and wrong about this and that and it just seems like you’re watching a first draft of a script whose jokes haven’t been fully worked out yet. There are some scenes that are funny, and there are some big laughs. And of course, since this is Cohen who seems to insist now on being subversive, there are a lot of “offensive” jokes including the film’s opening dedication. I’ve seen far too many “offensive” films to take anything in “The Dictator” as offensive; but even the offensive jokes aren’t very clever and seemed to be aimed only at adolescent boys.
I get that for the most part, that’s probably Cohen’s target audience anyway. I’d say that the guys who make “Jackass” probably would share that audience. But the difference is that Cohen has the ability to reach a far greater audience and has potential to be one of the great political satirists of our era. I think he kind of wasted his time with this one. It could have been on par with “Team America: World Police” as far as making fun of America and also globalism and bad foreign policy–instead, it just merely pokes fun. And a little poking from Sacha Baron Cohen goes a very long way. Literally.