A film review by Craig J. Koban May 21, 2012
2012, R, 84 mins.
2012, R, 84 mins.
General Aladeen: Sacha Baron Cohen / Zoey: Anna Faris / Megan
Fox: Herself / Nuclear Nadal: Jason Mantzoukas / Tahir: Ben
Kingsley / Clayton: John C. Reilly / Nurse Svetlana: Olivia
Dudley / Usher: J. B. Smoove / Slade: Kevin Corrigan
DICTATOR gets a huge laugh right from the get-go (the film's opening title card
states that it’s dedicated to the loving memory of Kim Jong-il) and
never looks back. It tells a tale of a tyrannical dictator who will go to
shocking – and, to be fair, frequently hilarious - lengths to ensure
that freedom, democracy, and any western socio-political-cultural
influences will never see the light of day in his
nation in question is the North African Republic of Wadiya that has been
ruled over for 40 years by Admiral General Aladeen (not to be confused
with Disney’s ‘Aladdin’). Flashbacks
and voiceover narration early on reveals snippets of his past: “He did
not know his mother, who died in childbirth,” and in the very scant amount of
footage we see baby Aladeen coming into the world and his mother is then
systematically smothered with a pillow by armed guards.
You know the old joke “even Hitler loved his mother”?
Well, Aladeen never even knew his.
grew up to become a sneering, venomous, anti-western, anti-Semitic, and
anti-just-about-everything-he-doesn’t-like oppressive bully that rules
over Wadiya with an iron fist. He
became an Olympic athlete, at least in his own version of the Olympics
where he’s allowed to win every event and shoots anyone that appears to
be giving him a challenge. When
he’s not driving around in his entourage of Hummers (all made of gold)
sheepishly surrounded by his loyal bodyguards (all uber hot women in war
fatigues), he lives a lonely life of seclusion in an unfathomably huge
palace that serves as his base of operations.
From there, he gives speeches to his people, makes plans for global
terrorism, and on his down time he pays celebrities to have sex with him.
He has what appears to be thousands of Polaroid’s of those he’s
slept with, the latest being Megan Fox, the previous including such
diverse people like Lindsay Lohan, Oprah Winfrey, and Arnold
DICTATOR comes from the warped and daring minds of star and co-writer
Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles, who previously teamed up on BORAT
Cohen perhaps needs no introduction at this stage of his career:
the Cambridge-educated Brit has gained a reputation as one of the pre-eminent
comedic satirists of his generation. His quasi-documentary BORAT launched
his career playing an imbecilic Kazakh journalist
that comes to America and his follow-up, the slightly inferior, but still
side-splittingly amusing BRUNO chronicled another perverse creation - a
gay Austrian fashion model. Those
films – aside from radically pushing just about every boundary of taste
and decency – explored the nature of prejudice, even when its characters
made complete asses of themselves.
DICTATOR is no exception: just like Borat and Bruno, General Aladeen is a
figure whose perception of everything around him is perpetually and
hopelessly shoe-horned within his own self-delusional tunnel vision.
Cohen and Charles use this broadly developed caricature of a tyrant
to take both incisive jabs not only at Middle Eastern political thugs, but
also how western nations like the U.S. often lets racial prejudices
perceive just about every Middle Easterner as a suicidal
terrorist. The film makes fun
at the malevolent creature of cruel spite that is Aladeen – the type of
flamboyant decadence he lives in, his mean-spirited and disgusting racial
bigotry, the self-aggrandizing God-like visage he typifies himself with,
and his insatiable hunger for world domineering power – but it also
takes equal opportunistic shots at American cultural responses to such
madmen. Yes, THE DICTATOR
is maliciously obscene and not only borders on puerile tastelessness, it
gleefully walks over the border. Yet,
like great satires, it desirously goes right for the jugular of its
for the film’s actual plot? Aladeen
heads off to New York to give a speech before the U.N., but before he can
do so he is betrayed by his second-in-command, Tahir (Ben Kingsley), who
replaces him with an idiotic body double (the gag here being that no one will know the difference)
that he will use to give a speech that will announce the spread of
democracy in Wadiya, to the financial windfall of Tahir and his backers.
Aladeen escapes unscathed (unless you don’t count his beard,
which was cut off, meaning that no one will recognize him as the real Supreme
Leader). He finds solace and shelter with a – ahem – left-wing,
vegan, feminist, immigrant-loving, health food storeowner named
Zoey (the sprightly and game Anna Faris, who holds her own to Cohen's
absurdity). When not working
as a clerk at her store, Aladeen hooks up with a former nuclear scientist
under his rule (that he thought he had executed over an argument about how
pointy his nuclear missile should be), Nadal (Jason Mantoukas, who
hysterical plays straight man to all of Cohen’s chronic buffoonery) and
the pair decide to team up and ensure that Aladeen’s double never makes
that speech at the U.N.
all memorable screen comedies, THE
DICTATOR goes to great lengths to score laughs and even when Cohen fails
miserably you’re willing to almost forgive him for trying.
There are huge guffaws to be had, for example, when Aladeen
addresses Wadiya and can’t stop cracking up when he pathetically tries
to tell his people that breakthroughs in nuclear research will only be
used for peaceful endeavors. Most
of the ample laughs come when he’s a fish-out-of-water and stuck in the
Big Apple trying to stay incognito to plan his attack against Tahir.
There are funny bits to be had with every new way Aladeen
increasingly mocks Zoey – and women – in general (“I love it when
women go to school. It’s
like seeing a monkey on skates – it means nothing to them, but it’s so
adorable for us"). Then there is an uproarious scene when Nadal and Aladeen go
on a helicopter tour of New York and speak innocently to one another –
in their native tongue – but drop words here and there that instantly
panic an American couple into thinking that they are planning another
9/11 in 2012.
as scatologically broad and farcical as THE DICTATOR is during its
lightning quick 84-minute running time, it culminates on a climatic scene
with the real Aladeen addressing the U.N. and the world that deserves
worthy comparisons to what Chaplin did in THE GREAT DICTATOR.
Aladeen pitilessly lashes out at democracy in general: “You
don’t know how good you have it here,” whereas in his nation the top
one percent controls all the wealth; the media and newspapers are governed
and ruled over by billionaires; the country's leader can declare war and bomb any
other nation he wants, even if it's unjust and invalid; offers no health
care at all for the sick and needy, and…so on and so on.
Very few scenes in modern comedies are as patently hysterical while
simultaneously speaking to so many social and political evils and ills
that are eerily close to all of us as this one does.
I just wish, though, the Cohen did not squeeze in as much gross-out gags and pratfalls in-between sequences of fearless and bold political satire as he did in THE DICTATOR. Visual hijinks involving exposed genitals, urine, fecal matter, and, uh-huh, birth canals are mournfully hit-or-miss. Also, for those enamored with the faux-documentary approaches of BORAT and BRUNO may be setting themselves up for big disappointment with THE DICTATOR, which is told in a relatively conventional manner with characters and a plot with a beginning, middle, and end (part of the greatness of Cohen’s last two film’s were their unending anything-could-happen unpredictability and spontaneity). THE DICTATOR is the lesser of the three Cohen/Charles collaborations, but I admired its chutzpah to try anything and go from one preposterous and objectionable moment to the next while, at the same time, having moments of political satiric brilliance. And General Aladeen…how do I say this…emerges as a shockingly endearing character in the film; that’s both a frightening and amusing sentiment, which I think is the film’s ultimate motive.