‘The Dictator” is a comedy with an absolutely splendid setup. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of a fictional country known as Wadiya. Aladeen abuses his authority to have people executed, even if they merely bump into him while walking down the stairs. He has additionally slept with virtually every major celebrity, from Megan Fox in a hilarious cameo to Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he ventures to New York though, Aladeen is betrayed by his subjects and replaced with an identical double, also portrayed by Cohen. His top advisor, played by Ben Kingsley, plans on using the double to finally bring democracy to Wadiya. Meanwhile, Aladeen is cast onto the streets of New York, stripped of all power. Imagine “Trading Places,” only with Saddam Hussein.
With a premise as clever as this, one would expect “The Dictator” to reach the heights of a satire like “Dr. Strangelove” or “To Be or Not to Be.” “The Dictator” is indeed a funny movie with much relevant political humor. However, it misses the mark of an instant comedy classic mainly due to several conventional narrative threads. For a film with so many offensive, edgy jokes, “The Dictator” can feel a little too safe at times.
The highlight of the picture is Cohen, who continues to thrive as one of our most ambitious comedians and character actors. As Aladeen, Cohen sports the scruffiest beard this side of Osama bin Laden and the most over-the-top foreign accent since Dr. Doofenshmirtz from “Phineas and Ferb.” Whether he is locking lips with Will Ferrell or spilling Kim Jong-il’s ashes on Ryan Seacrest, Cohen will shamelessly do anything to make us laugh. Much like Borat, Aladeen is another obliviously ignorant character that spouts some of the crudest dialog ever exclaimed on film. Against all odds though, Cohen still manages to make the character highly likable and endearing. This is among the most difficult tasks for any comic to pull off.
What often slows the film down is a romantic subplot between Aladeen and a left-wing owner of a grocery store, played by Anna Faris. Although this does offer some funny moments, the romance factor is typically the most uninteresting aspect of “The Dictator.” What made Cohen’s previous movies memorable was their unpredictable nature. The love story in “The Dictator,” while far more obscene than an average romantic comedy, is all too predictable. This ultimately prevents “The Dictator” from being what it could have been.
The jokes are mostly hits with an occasional misfire. The funniest bits in the film include a misunderstanding on a helicopter, an old school comedy routine on a zip-line, and a running gag involving a severed head. Other gags, like a birthing scene, are more disgusting and stupid than humorous. While not every joke in “The Dictator” works, the ones that do succeed more than compensate.
“The Dictator” isn’t “Borat.” It’s not even “Bruno.” For some truly uproarious moments and Cohen’s fearless performance though, it is well worth checking out. This marks the third time that Cohen teams up with director Larry Charles, whose beard ironically shares a resemblance to Aladeen’s. While these two make for great collaborators, they are beginning to become too familiar after three films. What I really want to see from this duo now is a documentary about the real-life marriage between Cohen and Isla Fisher.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.