Directed by: Larry Charles || Produced by: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer, David Mandel, Anthony Hines, Scott Rudin, Todd Schulman
Screenplay by: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer, David Mandel || Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas, John C. Reilly
Music by: Erran Baron Cohen || Cinematography: Lawrence Sher || Editing by: Greg Hayden, Eric Kissack || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 83 minutes
Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest foray into feature-filmmaking sports a scripted screenplay and forgoes the awkward genius of his previous endeavors, Borat (2006) and Bruno (2009). To be brief, The Dictator is every bit as offensive as its forbears while containing a fraction of their humor. Most of its jokes come across as half-baked and forced. The characters, including the titular protagonist, are uninteresting and not likable enough to keep the viewer engaged in the lazily constructed plot. In short, this is disappointing return for Cohen, and hopefully his final Hollywood feature.
As much as I love Sacha Baron Cohen’s original Da Ali G Show (2000, 2003-2006), Borat, and even Bruno, I could not figure out a way to fall in love with The Dictator. Like Ali G Indahouse before it in 2002, The Dictator’s scripted comedy does not fit Sacha Baron Cohen’s improvisational and faux-documentarian style of humor. The man is at his best when he’s fooling real, unsuspecting people who reveal their inner bigots and expose the social idiocies that Cohen is satirizing.
In other words, Cohen’s at his best when people are suing him — it makes for better and more intelligent comedy. That’s not to say that he can’t perform well in minor roles within scripted comedy, such as portraying Will Ferrell’s arch nemesis, the gay, French Formula One racing champ , Jean Girard, in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006); for the most part, though, when he’s the star of the show, he needs to stay within his comfort zone by making people make fools of themselves in unscripted situations.
His character in this movie, a despotic, fascist dictator of a fictional Middle-Eastern/North African country, is a fine idea and not an outrageous concept that is foreign to Cohen. He plays it well, but the situations he stages and the jokes that Cohen’s script tries to pull off fail miserably at almost every turn. Everything feels rushed, like a poor excuse to push us from one contrived gimmick to the next. None of the characters here are likable, including Cohen’s Admiral General Aladeen, despite all the caricatures on display being appropriately absurd. The film is at its best when Aladeen is “exchanging cultural differences” with his love interest and the film’s female lead, Zoey (Anna Faris), due to the fact that these segments mirror the culture clash that Borat, Bruno, and Da Ali G Show thrived on. These sections take up less than a third of the film, though.
The Dictator is not a horrendous film, but it is a complete failure. It is disappointing considering the heights Cohen’s previous works have achieved and what talents he possesses. Hopefully, the mediocre reception of this movie will discourage Cohen from dallying in scripted comedy again, as the similarly bad reaction to Indahouse kept the British comedian doing what he did best for the better part of a decade afterward. Aladeen, I hope you die of herpes.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Dictator’s script feels rushed and unpolished, as if the entire story is a lame excuse to shoehorn the audience from one poorly constructed gag to the next. None of the characters (including Baron’s protagonist) are as likable as any of the three characters from Da Ali G Show.
— However… most of the scenes with Cohen and Faris are fine (minus the masturbation revelation). There are some occasional witty jokes.
—> NOT RECOMMENDED
? John C. Reilly should have been a major character in this.