“The Dictator” is the first feature written by Sacha Baron Cohen that is not focused on one of the personalities that he created on “Da Ali G Show.” Also setting it apart from his former ventures of “Borat” and “Brüno” is the actual format of the film. While his two previous movies ran more like grandiose episodes of a reality TV show, “The Dictator” is a full-fledged scripted movie, without any interactions with bystanders nor the use of hand-cameras. But while “The Dictator” comes in a different format as its predecessors, it is just as effective.
The movie tells the story of Admiral General Haffaz Alladeen, dictator of the oil-rich North African nation of Wadiya. Alladeen is very much the paragon of modern tyranny. He spends most of his country’s resources on his palace, executes his subjects with little provocation, and is himself a devout fascist, sexist and anti-Semite.
The story really picks up with the UN threatening an air strike on the country if Alladeen does not show up at the next meeting to discuss Wadiya’s nuclear weapons policies. But after only a day in New York, Alladeen is captured and shaved of his trademark beard. Left to wander in the American streets as a common man while his advisor (played by the great Ben Kingsley) uses a comically thickheaded body double in order to make Wadiya a *gasp* democracy. Alladeen comes across Zoey (Anna Faris), who is his complete opposite: a radical liberal who owns a vegan market and majored in female literature. Since it is her market that is set to cater the event of Alladeen’s double signing Wadiya’s new constitution, Alladeen becomes her employee and hatches his plan to take back his throne and resume his loving oppression. But along the way, he learns a little more about himself and must grapple with his developing feelings for Zoey.
Admittedly, the plot isn’t entirely complex and is very much predictable at certain moments. But then again, this is a comedy, and has advertised itself as far from serious as you can be, so one shouldn’t be expecting too much in that department going in.
Luckily, the movie’s cast makes up for the lack of sophisticated writing. Cohen is of course excellent as the character he fully immerses himself in playing, and while Anna Faris and Ben Kingsley’s characters don’t have many comedic moments themselves, they do a good job of moving the plot along as well as providing more normal figures for the eccentric Alladeen to bounce off of. A surprising show-stealer was the lesser-known Jason Mantzoukas, who plays Alladeen’s former nuclear weapons specialist and lone ally in regaining power; he supplied most of the film’s witty quips. There were also small, but humorous parts with John C. Reilly and Bobby Lee as well as a few appreciated cameos.
There is a pretty good range of comedy throughout the film. The moments of pure silliness almost seem reminiscent of Monty Python—a scene with a zip-line failure and a few with a severed head are particularly amusing. Then there is also a fair amount of subtle humor that shines through the movie, like it starting with a tribute to the dearly missed Kim Jong-Il and having a score of easily recognized music with the vocals replaced by Cohen singing indistinguishable Arabic. However a majority of the gags are Cohen’s staples: satire, stereotype and shock-value. There are moments where you can’t help but laugh, like one ridiculous scene involving a birth. But then there are others where it almost seems like Cohen is just trying too hard—nudity and foreign accents only go so far. And of course, like Cohen’s other films, most of the material is purposely offensive, so this movie may not be for everyone.
Still, I was chuckling or at least smiling for most of the movie, so I’d say it was a pleasant experience. It has its hits and misses, but overall, “The Dictator” is a good laugh to kick off the summer.