Seeing Sacha Baron Cohen’s name on a film should let you know that you are pretty much about to see something disturbing, insane and, hopefully, funny. Da Ali G Show. Borat. Brüno. Cohen is known for pushing the boundaries of what comedy is capable of, or should even be used for.
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Enter The Dictator.
It is the story of Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen, the not-so benevolent dictator of the Northeastern African Republic of Wadiya. He is quite naturally sexist, racist, homophobic and an anti-Semite as well as being fantastically wealthy. Aladeen’s only redeeming trait is that he refuses to sell Wadiya’s vast oil resources on the international market. This raises the ire of his uncle, played by Ben Kingsley, who secretly deposes Aladeen and replaces him with a doppelganger. Aladeen survives the attempt on his life and escapes into New York, looking for a way to return to power.
Like most of Baron’s immersive characters, 90 per cent of the things that come out of Aladeen’s mouth are horrifically awful. Virtually every piece of Aladeen’s dialogue is prejudicial in some way. And after seeing how frequently Cohen likes to play his characters in public as part of Andy Kaufman-esque jokes where life imitates are imitating life, it’s a wonder he doesn’t get punched in the face more.
Ultimately, you either find Cohen funny or you don’t. While each of his characters are quite different, they are, at their core, roughly the same combination of super offensive, delusional and completely lacking in self-awareness.
That being said, The Dictator is almost tame in comparison to films like Borat. Frankly, if you didn’t enjoy his previous outings as Ali G or Borat, you probably aren’t going to like this film. And if you did like them, you won’t be shocked by anything Aladeen says or does. You’ll enjoy The Dictator though the joke is getting kind of tiresome.
Where The Dictator succeeds and breaks new ground is in its portrayal of General Aladeen as a dictator. He’s crazy and off-balance, if not borderline stupid. He runs his country the way a child plays with toys, having citizens executed at the whims of his tantrums.
Once in New York, Aladeen is without money, power or influence. He’s suddenly a member of the Western rabble he despises. He has to change his ways somewhat to get the help that he needs out of these people but Aladeen is what he is. While he does have to make some concessions, few of those concessions are permanent. The changes to his personality are superficial at best.
In the end, The Dictator is an irreverent skewering of the dictator archetype we have been familiarized with in Western culture. It is neither a pro or con look at the idea, simply a jumping off point for Cohen’s in your face comedy offense.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at@ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.
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