Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Talk about polarizing, Sasha Baron Cohen’s movie ‘The Dictator’ seems to fit that bill more than any movie I’ve seen in recent memory.  Some people hate it, despise it, don’t think it’s funny or edgy enough while other love it, think it’s hilarious and call it a work of edgy genius.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve heard or read anybody call it a ‘work of genius’, maybe a bit of an overstatement on my part, but if you were to ask me, and I assume you are asking me, I thought ‘The Dictator’ was vulgar, at times grossly inappropriate and for the most part very funny. 

Cohen is Haffiz Aladeen, the supreme dictator of the Northern Africa nation of Wadiya where he has been in charge since he was seven.  I don’t know how many seven year olds you know, but I’ve known a few and they aren’t the most mature bunch around and while Aladeen may look to be somewhere in his mid-thirties, he’s still pretty much seven years old in a large body. 

Regardless, Aladeen’s life as ruler is simple and consists of bribing Hollywood stars to have relations with him, playing customized games on his Wii… grossly inappropriate… having various advisors executed for perceived crimes against the state and frustrating his right hand man and chief advisor Tamir (Ben Kinglsey) to no end.  As ruler of Wadiya, Aladeen’s main goal is enriching uranium from his nuclear power plant towards peaceful ends.  And if by peaceful ends he means nuking Israel, then that’s what he means.  Of course the world tribune frowns on anybody having the potential to create a nuclear weapon who’s not the U.S., China or Russia so now Aladeen has to make a special trip to the U.S. to address the U.N. to assure them that his plans are just and pure. 

It’s on his trip to America where Aladeen’s adventure really begins.  He has a double whose main function it is to take a bullet for him but the scurrilous Tamir has substituted the real Aladeen with the double, his plan being to do some evil stuff at this conference that Aladeen was slated to address the world’s concerns.  The real Aladeen has had his beard taken from him, is trapped in New York City but has been rescued by Zoey (Anna Faris), the ultra liberal, organic loving, refugee saving feminist who doesn’t shave much. 

There’s zaniness and hijinks abound in between all of this, but Aladeen needs to somehow make it to the conference, reclaim his identity from the imposter, with the help of the chief scientist from his nuclear program (Jason Mantzoukas) who he thought he had executed, and then save his nation from the evil Tamir who plans to completely sell out Wadiya, under the always welcome front of democracy.  And love is in the air.  Don’t ever forget about the love floating around in the air. 

There aren’t a lot of things in this life as individually subjective as ‘what is funny’, but ‘The Dictator’, for me at least, was some wild and wacky shenanigan filled stuff.  Not all of the gags work of course, and since it’s a Sasha Baron Cohen joint there’s a darn good chance that something along the way is going to offend you, but there’s also an equal chance that a lot of this offending material will deliver varying levels of the funny. 

For instance, while it did happen forty years ago, is there ever a time where the ’72 Munich Massacre will ever be a sound launching point for comedy?  I’m thinking probably not.  However, Cohen and Mantzoukas combined for a 9-11 inspired gag, and in the way that it was presented, it was actually pretty funny.   True enough, there’s probably will never be a good time for 9-11 humor either, but in the context of a misunderstanding, this sketch was handled about as tastefully as we can expect from Sasha Baron Cohen. 

Essentially, this is what ‘The Dictator’ is, that being a series of sketch comedy gags stitched together by an extremely rudimentary narrative so it can be called a movie.  ‘Borat’ but only this time everybody else in on the joke as well.  With that in mind you kind of get what you get.  Cohen isn’t much of an actor, but he has created another funny character which he has little problem inhabiting, Ben Kingsley was funny in the sense he looked like he was looking for the closest ATM machine so he could cash his check and get the hell out of there, Anna Faris does what Anna Faris does but Jason Mantzoukas was a revelation in this film and John C. Reilly’s cameo was almost show stealing. 

It’s debatable whether or not ‘The Dictator’ is a good movie because it is barely a movie at all, but it was very funny and Aladeen’s Pro-Dictator speech to close the show was almost worth the price of admission by itself.  I know I got what I wanted out of the movie. 

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