Sacha Baron Cohen is undoubtedly one of the most daring names in comedy recently. A Cambridge graduate, the comedian-actor who has starred in fairly controversial films “Bruno” and “Borat” returns with director Larry Charles in 2012’s “The Dictator”. What can be said about Cohen, over other contemporary comedians, is his absolutely excellent ability to inhabit a character role – both in and out of the film he is portrayed in. “The Dictator” is no exception to this, yet it might be the controversy regarding the Academy Awards snub that is remembered more than this film.
Cohen plays the hilariously named Admiral General Aladeen, a megalomaniacal dictator of a fictional oil-rich North African country named Waadeya. While on his trip to the UN to deliver a speech, he is thrown from his oppressive dictatorial role into that of a lost New Yorker, desperate to get back to his position as dictator. He meets others along the way to help him, namely Aasif Mandvi and Anna Farris.
The film’s plot is about as formulaic and basic as a comedy can get, simply serving as a vehicle to push from one joke to the next. If you were expecting any sort of compelling narrative, with jokes sprinkled throughout, then this movie will not be enjoyable. It completely rides upon its humor, which is both beneficial and detrimental. If the film at least attached you to particular characters other than Admiral General Aladeen then it might benefit more from its gags featuring multiple characters.
The real highlight of the film is Cohen’s consistent portrayal of this outrageous ruler. He is funny throughout; and even though he might be a horrible person with villainous qualities, he has a childish heart underneath. It is that mixture of qualities that makes for some very hilarious moments.
The actual jokes and gags themselves hold their own throughout. As mentioned, the film plods forward from one gag or joke to the next, with story simply setting up the scenes. Most of the jokes were grin worthy, and a handful of them were laugh-out-loud hilarious. Yet, overall I would not call it the funniest movie of the year. There’s a bit of everything in the movie. Sacha Baron Cohen’s trademark shocking and offensive humor will please the college moviegoers and his more clever witty humor will amuse older watchers. Yet, even the offensive humor appears to be more tame than his other movies’ most memorable moments. The whole film also deals heavily with contemporary political issues – specifically the power-obsessed dictators which have filled the news as of late. Cohen’s character pokes fun at both the absurdity of people like Colonel Ghadafi as well as the hangers-on who surround such people.
Overall, the movie maintains a consistent level of humor throughout. While that level of humor may remain at simply grin-level comedy, it still has a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. It might not be the funniest movie of the year, but it is by no means bad at what it does. A less formulaic plot would have benefited the movie’s gags by allowing other comedians in the movie to shine more. As it stands, it is a movie centered completely on Cohen’s comedy and held up by it as well. Not completely unlike the self-centered nature of his character, Admiral General Aladeen.