Thursday, May 10 2012
After the global success of Borat in 2006, the notoriety of the follow up Bruno, and not to mention the extravagant public appearances, Sacha Baron Cohen must have wondered how he could continue his career if everyone recognised him and his characters. The solution he has come up with in The Dictator is to depart from the hidden camera hijinks he became famous for and instead go back to a more conventional narrative comedy style. But I wonder whether this was a choice on his part or if he is a victim of his own success.
Luckily the film itself is pretty funny - fans of Baron Cohen will not be disappointed - but the bad news is it does not reach the giddy heights of Borat. In fact, it has more in common with Ali G in Da House than his last two mockumentaries.
The latest character to be unleashed on audiences is General Aladeen, the beloved oppressor of the fictional North African state of Wadiya. He struts around his oil rich nation as the supreme ruler where all his subjects have to obey his every whim. That is until his jealous uncle (played by Ben Kingsley) stages a coup during a trip to a United Nations summit in New York. Aladeen escapes but robbed of his trademark beard he is forced to walk the streets as an anonymous foreigner. Liberal American Zoe (Anna Faris) takes pity on him and takes the deposed leader on as an employee at her organic food store.
The aim of the film is to make the viewer sympathise with someone who is completely detestable and it achieves this through sheer brute force. Aladeen is effectively a spoiled toddler given control of a country. He holds his own Olympic games where he wins every medal by shooting anyone who dares to out run him and he orders scientists to be killed because the missiles they make aren't pointy enough. But once you become acclimatised to his exploits you come to care for him as you would any other flawed protagonist.
The laughs come steadily and there is a good mix of close to the bone un-PC jokes and gross out humour. It's not a movie for those who are sensitive or easily offended either by middle-eastern politics or the sight of genitals. Baron Cohen's trademark sharp satirical sense is also present, especially in *SPOLIER ALERT* a climactic speech when Aladeen describes the benefits of living in a dictatorship which are all too familiar, such as having all the media controlled by one family.
Although it works as a straightforward story, it lacks the thrill of seeing interactions with actual people. So rather than linking together a series of improvised scenes with a loose plot as in Borat, you get some fairly functional scenes, performed by actors heading, towards a predictable outcome.
In the end, although it isn't quite a worthy successor, The Dictator is just funny enough to rule on its own.