As controversial as the film is sure to be received, “The Dictator” (R) starring the talented Sacha Baron Cohen surely does have its moments of hilarity. Now if you’re expecting the same level of ‘can’t believe he did that’ gut-busting belly laughs that we’ve come to expect from the mind of ‘Ali G’ and ‘Borat,’ it might be best to temper your expectations a touch. The heavily scripted comedy simply doesn’t allow for the same measure of unpredictability. But at its core, “The Dictator” succeeds primarily by being funny, pushing heavily upon some real world hot-button topics, while utilizing much of Cohen’s familiar adherence to shock value to get us there.
That’s not to say that “The Dictator” won’t be offensive to some. It will. The lead character Admiral General Aladeen is a misogynist, a ruthless tyrant, and a racist, all at once and manages to leave no gender, origin, or religion untouched. The film revolves around Aladeen’s fall from grace, replaced by a bumbling body double (also played by Cohen) to serve as a puppet in office. Left destitute and alone in New York City, Aladeen stumbles upon Zoey (Anna Faris)- a sympathetic hippie-type protestor who also runs a Vegan collective produce store in Manhattan- earns her trust, and subsequently falls in love with her. As Aladeen vows to return to power, he puts his relationship with Zoey at risk and appears humanized, before everything unravels before him.
“The Dictator” certainly pushes the envelope, but also creates a story that has sufficient parts comedy and present day relevance that you are invested throughout, despite how implausible the premise might seem. While Cohen’s Aladeen shines bright here, it is the cameos which bring out the film’s more fun parts rather than a toned down supporting cast. Small roles featuring Bobby Lee, Chris Parnell, and JB Smoove, highlight the even briefer appearances of the likes of Horatio Sanz, Fred Armisen, Chris Elliott, Kathryn Hahn, Garry Shandling and even Megan Fox, as herself. Unfortunately John C. Reilly and Ben Kingsley, while relatively more prominent, are given little to work with comedically, although Farris’ Zoey is a suitable counterpart for Cohen both in her hipster character and comic timing.
Pushed up to a mid-week release, “The Dictator” is Cohen’s latest vehicle for self-promotion evident by his massively attended press conference last week, and while his character mandates the best jokes be saved for himself, there’s enough sight gags and slapstick stuff sprinkled in around the political jabs that most filmgoers should enjoy this movie. That said, be fully prepared to have your sensibilities pushed to the brink of disbelief in some regard- depending on your level of sensitivity to things like terrorism, abuse of power, and bigotry. But in the end, comedy is comedy, and based on the fact that you’re going to see Cohen’s latest work, it would be fair to expect nothing less than the outrageous. And in this case, the outrageous is certainly worth visiting.
“The Dictator” is rated R, starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, and Anna Faris, has a runtime of 83 minutes, and is released in theaters everywhere on Wednesday, May 16th.
- Jane Van Arsdale