Movie Reviews

'The Dictator': A comedic dud

By Zul AndraMovies - 15 June 2012 10:25 AM | Updated 12:10 PM

'The Dictator': A comedic dud

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Rating: 3 out of 5

The Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly, Megan Fox

The Buzz: The proverbial saying goes, “leave when you are at the top”, and it seemed that Sacha Baron Cohen was doing exactly that, ditching the reality aspects of his highly successful satire-styled mockumentaries, for an almost run-of-the-mill slapstick, “The Dictator.”

The Story: Republic of Wadiya’s ruler, Admiral General Hafez Aladeen (Cohen) faces the wrath of the United Nations for a nuclear bomb threat, and heads to New York for a meeting but finds himself betrayed by his brother (Ben Kingsley as Tamir) who swaps him for a half-witted body double. thinks: Sure, there were some funnies along the way. The film opened with an obituary for the late Kim Jong II, as I warmed up to my seat with a hearty laugh expecting this is a prelude of what’s to come: Cohen’s total disregard for everything except his own brand of humor. I was wrong.

I felt as though I was watching the same old timed-model employed by mindless action films. Explosive scenes for a few seconds, lots of dreary running for what seems like an eternity, and another action sequence minutes after.

Here, instead of action, we get some of the most vile and crude humor -- though perhaps the most unique ever seen in theaters -- which includes a penis slamming against a glass window, and a romantic scene held inside a childbearing woman’s vagina. (I am not going to give it all away.)

It’s not the laugh or cringe-a-minute type of film that Cohen is best known for. If the Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated “Borat” drew his most notable work, and “Bruno” was just shocking, “The Dictator” sits between the latter and “Hugo”.

Read also: Ali G's 5 best interviews

The weary plot fillers -- as much as it’s important -- is viler than the actual comedic scenes.

Republic of Wadiya’s ruler, Admiral General Hafez Aladeen (Cohen), facing the wrath of the United Nations for a nuclear bomb threat, heads to New York but instead finds himself betrayed by his brother (Ben Kingsley as Tamir) who has swapped him for a half-witted body double.

With the help of a naïve feminist-vegan-eco-friendly shopkeeper, Zoey (the unrecognizable Anna Faris), Aladeen has to find a way to return to the security-tight hotel and to refuse the signing of his country’s declaration to become a democratic nation.

While Aladeen’s relationship with Zoey seems put on, thankfully his relationship with his former nuclear scientist, Nadal (the surprisingly funny Jason Mantzoukas) gives the film some humour.

Aladeen’s improvisational conversations and constant bickering with Nadal is thoroughly entertaining. Back story: Nadal was supposed to have his head chopped off back in Wadiya because he refused to adhere to Aladeen’s request to make the tip of the atomic bomb pointy.

With Nadal, Cohen as Aladeen seems most comfortable notably because it's unscripted, a comedic skill Cohen is more acquainted with.

There isn’t a moment between Aladeen and Nadal that isn’t hilarious. When Aladeen decides to don an overly patriotic outfit to blend in with an American tour group, Nadal is there to dress him down; when Aladeen wanted to commit suicide, Nadal is there to convince him of his innate power as a ruler.


Silence! I keeeel you. 

Improvisation is where Cohen’s true comedic genius lies; which explains why he’s more affable during his uninvited promotional stints (or stunts) as Aladeen rather than this scripted, one-way and unmemorable gag of a film.

Cohen was, dare I say, undeniably brilliant in his previous imbecilic characters staged in the real world of politics, fashion, and media. The memorable element about his complex (and crudely endearing) characters – Borat, Bruno and Ali G – was that he could maintain such a genuine humorous façade in very real situations.

If there was someone, some group, or something that Cohen could offend, he did it . Terrorist faction Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the entire government of Kazakhstan (of which he is facing death threats from the former and banned from entering the latter), Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al Fayed, U.S Republican candidate James Broadwater, David and Victoria Beckham, Paula Abdul, politician Ron Paul, and LaToya Jackson, they were all on the receiving end of Cohen’s brutal comedic nature. 

However, in “The Dictator” there was none of these real-life situations. Cohen has grown too popular underneath all his wigs, hats and sunglasses. Stature comparison to Chaplin’s 1940 “The Great Dictator” is far-fetched, if not, absolutely unworthy. And if the backlashes towards Cohen’s style is  anything to go by, this time around, he faces no  legal action, no death threats, and though “The Dictator” is banned in some of the –stan countries, it is still widely screened globally.

And it should, because “The Dictator” has not even grossed enough to meet its production budget.

Cohen could have been the next great Groucho Marx, Sid Caesar, and Lenny Bruce of his generation if only he didn’t retire from the reality of his comedic genius. Oy vey.