Genral Admiral Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) has been ruling the Republic of Wadiya since he was seven years old. Whilst his people live in abject poverty, Aladeen is trying to create the ultimate WMD, in between playing ‘Munich Olympics’ on his Wii and paying to sleep with various celebrities. Ruthless, childish and incredibly insensitive, Aladeen is summoned to America to address the UN. Upon his arrival, a series of planned mishaps involving a corrupt CIA agent (a fabulous John C. Reilly) and his Uncle, Tamir (Ben ‘I have bills to pay’ Kingsley) result in Aladeen beardless and working for feminist activist, Zoey (Anna Faris) in her multi-cultural grocery store. Meanwhile, Tamir has hired an Aladeen look-a-like to declare Wadiya a republic and sell off its oil supplies. Can Aladeen reclaim his throne in time to stop the unthinkable happening.
The Dictator is an odd beast primarily because its humour flip-flops between the satirical and the down right gross. References to America’s political persuasions and the uncomfortable similarities it shares with dictatorships are unashamedly clear the path for prostitutes being milked like cows, mobile phones being left in expectant mothers and literal poo poo jokes. If none of that sounds in the least bit appealing, then avoid it like you’d avoid your in-laws at Christmas.
Sacha Baron Cohen as the titular tyrant is amiable enough. From Talladega Nights to Bruno, it’s obvious that Cohen has a uncanny ability to bring his characters to life. There’s just that niggling thought that like the rest of the film, the characterization is uneven. A scene where he begs Megan Fox for a hug after sex suggests we’re meant to feel some sort of sympathy for him. However, an hour later his eyes sparkle at the possibility of raping someone and later discussions display his proclivities for 14-year-old boys. It’s like eating a pick and mix of jelly beans, sherbet and glass. His love story with Faris feels like there was studio interference and had everyone had been left to their own devices their arc would have ended quite differently.
The Dictator isn’t making light of Aladeen’s real-life counterparts. If anything, like Chris Morris’s Four Lions, it seems like it wants to use humour to take away some of power from these individuals. Out of the two, Four Lions is more successful simply because of its tighter pacer and even tone.
When all is said and done though, for the most it is a very funny film and at times, like one of Aladeen’s prisoners, it did become hard to breathe. However, like Jason Segal’s The Five-Year Engagement, another film that is very funny, someone just needed to be around to say ‘You know what guys? This bit isn’t really funny. I get it’. We would happily offer our services.
See it, enjoy it and then go watch Four Lions to see how it should be done.