General Admiral Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), the dictator of Wadiya, is developing nuclear weapon capability and the UN delivers an ultimatum for him to address the General Assembly personally or face the world's wrath. The self centred Dictator and his henchman (Ben Kingsley) head for New York, where a plot to assassinate him and turn Wadiya into a democracy so its oil can be exploited - by those inside the country as well as some outside - is in the making. But when an anti-Aladeen protester (Anna Farris) mistakes the now beardless Aladeen for a fellow traveller, the Dictator's complicated predicament becomes more complicated - through his heart.
Review by Louise Keller:
Milking bosoms, tonguing underarm hair, masturbation instruction and inserting a mobile phone into a vagina are some of the out-to-shock moments in Sacha Baron Cohen's self-styled parody in which the creator of Ali G, Borat and Bruno embodies his latest character, The Dictator of the rogue North African state of Wadiya. If it's racist, discriminatory, provocative, in bad taste, plain stupid or self-indulgent, Cohen has probably included it in the film - after all, his vulgarity, hit-or-miss skits and high-risk comedy with flashes of brilliance are his signature and what his fans lap up.
I was surrounded by tremors of laughter at the pop-up fan screening, despite waiting a long 45 minutes for the film's star, dressed in his Dictator garb, complete with curly wig, long black beard, epaulettes, medals and a parade of pouting beauties squeezed into tight short skirts, jackets and berets. As for me, beyond my initial curiosity and willingness to be entertained, there were a few moments worthy of note and a few chuckles, but otherwise the film felt forced, tedious and lacking in wit.
In the initial scenes set in Wadiya, we meet the baby Aladeen (complete with beard and pubic hair) before a series of skits of the adult Dictator playing beheading video games and having his subjects executed for the most ridiculous reasons. Amid world concern about nuclear weapons, Aladeen heads to New York City to address the United Nations, making his entrance to the Lancaster Hotel in a camel ride down 5th Avenue. John C. Reilly curiously appears as a Security Chief with a torture tools kit that Aladeen ridicules for being too safe. Then the film's premise takes hold when Aladeen's beard goes up in flames, leaving the beardless Aladeen unrecognisable on the streets, while his dumb-ass double (Cohen) is cosseted inside the hotel, under the close watch of Wadiya's rightful and resentful heir (Ben Kingsley).
That all falls pretty flat but things pick up somewhat when Aladeen meets Anna Faris' dynamo, vegan feminist with hairy armpits who runs a shop and catering company called Free Earth Collective. Faris, looking a bit like Justin Bieber, is a bundle of energy and gives us something solid to hang onto. Their relationship leads to the previously mentioned moment involving a mobile phone and a vagina, when for the first time, as they grapple to find the phone, the pair's hands meet. A kiss follows. By the way, the vagina belongs to a random shopper who goes into labour in the shop's aisle.
There are some funny moments: the scene in which Aladeen and one of his countrymen are sightseeing in a helicopter over Manhattan when the words they use (like Bin Laden and 911) are wildly misunderstood by the fat American couple onboard. The decapitated head of a negro American, used in conjunction with the song Ebony and Ivory brings some laughs as does the high wire scene in which Aladeen defecates to lose some weight.
This is the least clever or funny of Cohen's previous characters - there's a blatant shortage of ideas. But the fans won't mind - they seem to laugh at it all, however inane.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although I'm no fan of Sacha Baron Cohen's work, I always find morsels of memorable satire or plain humour in his work, most of which relies on buffoonery, audacious bad taste and tickling the juvenile fancy. There's not much that's new in his cupboard, but if you like what he does, there is always a more daring version of it coming up. In The Dictator, Cohen gets me on side with an outburst as Aladeen arrives in his suite at New York's Lancaster Hotel, screaming at the audacious $20 daily rate for internet access.
The fictional country and its fictional dictator are typical terrain for Cohen, and he squeezes everything into and out of the scenario, making it a frenetic situation comedy for late night viewing.
The primary running gag is about his throat slashing gesture to indicate to his henchmen that he wants a certain subject executed. It gets blacker than that. In a helicopter ride surveying New York like a tourist - accompanied by a nuclear scientist he wanted executed but has survived and lives in New York - there is a typical American couple sharing the ride. Aladeen and his friend begin in English but switch to Waddayacallit and their conversation is peppered with references to bin Laden and 911 in a way the American couple misunderstand - to great guffaws from the Cohen fanclub audience at the Sydney premiere.
I don't find this offensive, trusting in Stephen Fry's take on comedy that it's saving grace is that we can laugh at something at the same time take it seriously (paraphrased). This is the kind of shock tactic that is a Cohen trademark.
Near the end of the film Aladeen makes a sharply satirical public speech in which he describes the worst aspects of American society, democratic as it is. It's clever, it's pertinent and savage.
Anna Faris is perhaps the best thing in the film as the ultra feminist environmental protector and totally politically correct person who becomes Aladeen's love - and moral saviour. Natch.
These are the few things I took away from The Dictator, which is not satisfying enough, especially given we had to wait 45 minutes for his Dictatorship to make his gala entrance to introduce his film - and nobody at the cinema bothered to give progress reports to the fidgety full house. But then as I say, I am no fan.
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DICTATOR, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, John C. Reilly, Ben Kingsley, J. B. Smoove, B. J. Novak, Kevin Corrigan, Aasif Mandvi, Erick Avari, Bobby Lee
PRODUCER: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
DIRECTOR: Larry Charles
SCRIPT: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg,
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lawrence Sher
EDITOR: Greg Hayden, Eric Kissak
MUSIC: Erran Baron Cohen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Victor Kempster
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 10, 2012