Sacha Baron Cohen has a sense of humor you either love or hate. He crosses the line and does not discriminate in the types of people, places, or ideas that he makes fun of. The man is good at what he does, and in a world full of boring and overplayed stereotypes, he somehow manages to create original material out of taboo subjects. Most of Baron Cohen’s gold lies in his real-life interactions with people who believe they are taking part in a serious documentary, like with Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Brüno. With his latest film, The Dictator, Baron Cohen returns to the more scripted format of his first film, Ali G Indahouse.
In The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen plays the role of Admiral General Aladeen from the Republic of Wadiya, a fictional North African country. The UN has threatened to attack Wadiya if Aladeen does not show up in person and explain his nuclear weapons program. Once in America he is betrayed by his advisor and replaced by a double who is being used to bring democracy to Wadiya and in turn sell off all their oil rights. Aladeen ends up falling in love while working to infiltrate the conference, crossing line after line along the way. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, check it out:
I’m nearly impossible to offend; I’ve always enjoyed Sacha Baron Cohen’s style of humor because I love it when people venture into what is considered “unacceptable” territory in the name of hilarity. I applaud his ability to deconstruct stereotypes and ignorance and the masterful way he exploits the idiocy of real people. The Dictator manages to travel into familiar territory while still coming across as fresh and new. In Borat the focus was on xenophobia, while in Brüno it was mainly homophobia. In this latest film Baron Cohen pretty much brings everything to the table in one form or another, but the biggest topic is politics.
In fact, the whole film really hits home during Admiral General Aladeen’s speech to the UN about all the good things that could come from America being a dictatorship, listing out problems already plaguing and events already happening in America today. It is by far one of the smartest “jokes” in the film, and will be one of the most polarizing. You’ve got your hardcore patriots who will shoot you for saying 9/11’s name in vain (though they probably wouldn’t see the movie in the first place) and then you’ve got your audience who is in it for the laughs no matter what. Where this film might have a problem is it may go over some people’s heads who don’t know much about politics or current events, but there is enough below-the-belt humor to keep them entertained.
In a movie like this plot, shouldn’t and won’t matter because you watch it for the one-liners and ridiculous situations. But when compared to the mockumentary style of Borat and Brüno, it doesn’t pack as hard of a punch. I wanted this movie to be funnier and more uncomfortable than it was, which is hard to do when using actors instead of real oblivious people. Baron Cohen is a great comedian, but his charm lies with how he captures the dregs of humanity and horrible ignorance that abounds. Absent of any spontaneous manipulated interaction with unsuspecting participants, the film becomes just another funny movie, though at least it succeeds at that.
Another aspect of Sacha Baron Cohen’s genius is his ability to portray the subtleties of different cultures. It makes you trust in his assessment of things that you might not know about when you can catch his attention to detail about things you are knowledgeable in. It shows that Baron Cohen has done his research, that he’s respectful enough of a cultural or race or topic to learn about it, and thus deserves the right to tear it apart. I had the unique opportunity to live in Saudi Arabia for a year, and it is only because of my experience there that I was able to pick up on certain nuances. For example, in the beginning Aladeen is seen walking around holding hands with his advisor (played by Ben Kingsley). It is actually extremely common in Middle Eastern countries for males to hold hands, or even walk around with their arms around each other, and has no homosexual connotations whatsoever. So as crazy as it seems, it’s the little things that make Baron Cohen’s humor more sophisticated.
As a fan of Baron Cohen and his type of humor, I enjoyed the movie and laughed through 80% of it. It’s smart, timely, and entertaining. However I lean more towards his mockumentary style so in that regard this film was lacking for me and I can only give it 3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls. The more popular Baron Cohen and his characters get, the harder it will be for him to put himself in situations that result in the level of originality and cringe-worthy comedy of Borat and Brüno, so it makes sense that he venture further into scripted territory. My only hope is that he doesn’t lose his edge or his balls, or let’s face it, his penis, because yes, that shows up in this movie too.