WRITTEN BY: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
DIRECTED BY: Larry Charles
STARRING: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley
RATING: 2.5 stars
A lot of people have rubbished The Dictator for being discriminatory, politically incorrect, racist and sexist. To those people, I say, what did you expect? Sacha Baron Cohen has a certain style of offensive humour and with outlandish characters like Borat, Bruno and Ali G, surely we've come to expect the unexpected from him so much so that we've built a resistance wall so that nothing he says can really offend or surprise us any more? If you're not a fan of his style of comedy, then The Dictator certainly won't change your mind and you won't be interested in seeing the film. So, despite not being an especially enthusiastic fan, I'm going to try to provide an honest review of The Dictator for the Cohen fans.
Dedicated to the memory of quintessential dictator Kim Jong Il (a good gag to start the film with) The Dictator tells the story of General Admiral Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), the dictator of Wadiya, who is developing nuclear weapons. The UN instructs him to address the General Assembly or face war from the rest of the world. So Aladeen and his adviser Tamir (Ben Kingsley) go to New York. But Aladeen is kidnapped and swapped with an impersonator who plans to announce to the UN that Wadiya will become a democracy. So, Aladeen enlists the help of innocent anti-Aladeen protester Zoey (Anna Faris), who doesn't know his true identity, to save his dictatorship.
The first 15 minutes are actually quite entertaining but it all goes pear-shaped after that and there are only a few redeeming scenes that save the film from disaster. I don't want to spoil any of the good or bad moments by describing them to you, suffice to say there is a good September 11 joke (amazing that it actually works), an odd masturbation scene, and a ridiculous child birth scene, to name a few. There is also male and female nudity.
Unfortunately, there are several jokes that fall flat. While there were gasps from the audience at times over the most outlandish moments, others were so unfunny that there was a stone-faced expression from everyone and even some awkwardness. I'm sorry, but there is just no way to make child abuse or rape funny. I am not easily offended. I love racist, sexist and political jokes because they're based on stereotypes and very few people actually conform to those stereotypes, so why not have a laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? Celebrity jokes are also worth a good laugh. But, when it comes to any form of abuse, it is impossible to make it funny.
Cohen is actually a good actor and I prefer seeing him in controlled comedic scenarios where he can shine as a comedian while being reined in by a clever director and without going too far with his jokes. Perfect examples of this are Hugo and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Unfortunately, when he is left to his own devices, Cohen barely stumbles through some awful skits. I'm not sure why Ben Kingsley agreed to be in this film because his character was ridiculous. However, Anna Faris was a shining light. She's one of the best comedic actresses in Hollywood (take a lesson, Jennifer Aniston) and her portrayal of a left-wing, feminist, green-loving hippie is fantastic. There are also a couple of good celebrity cameos.
The Dictator is sure to delight Cohen fans. Just go in with an open mind and remember that it is all a big joke. Please don't leave the cinema carrying racist and sexist opinions.