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The Dictator

The Dictator

Released 16 May 2012
Director Larry Charles

Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Megan Fox, Jessica St. Clair, Anna Katarina, Sayed Badreya

Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer

Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Scott Rudin, Jeff Schafer
Origin United States
Running Time 83 minutes
Genre Comedy
Rating 16

Bring on the Revolution.

Sacha Baron Cohen may have started out with Da Ali G Show, but it was the film Borat which really launched him upon the world. Its outrageous, in-your-face, gross-out humour was designed to offend first and foremost, but underneath all that Borat had something more. It worked so well because for all Borat’s anti-Semitic misogynistic ignorance, he also possessed a wide eyed innocence which drew people in. The best bits of the film weren’t Borat being Borat and pissing people off, it was people accepting Borat as somebody they could confide in, and unwittingly allowing him to bring out their own prejudices. Cohen’s satire worked so well when his unwitting victims didn’t get that he was joking, and as a result allowed him into a slice of life we wouldn’t ordinarily see in a comedy film. It got laughs, but on a deeper level it was about challenging conventions.

The Dictator is not Borat. It isn’t particularly funny and its moral message couldn’t possibly be handled with any less subtly. The plot is trite and utterly predictable, and does little but string together one failing sketch after another until the film’s climax where Cohen literally gives a speech to the UN outlining the motivation driving the film (America is like a dictatorship too!).

Although Cohen purports to be playing Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen – the ousted dictator of a fictional oil rich African nation seeking to regain power at a UN summit in New York – his character is basically Borat with a weirder accent. He has the same stereotypical bigoted attitude, but none of the innocence. This time around he just comes off as annoying. Cohen is basically telling the exact same joke, and hoping nobody will notice because of a bigger budget.

While much of the fault clearly lies with Cohen’s irritating and uninspiring lead performance, the supporting cast isn’t any better. Ben Kingsley phones in a wooden performance as the villain, and Anna Farris is as attractive as fingernails on a chalkboard in the female lead, and equally annoying.

In many ways The Dictator is like a bad episode of South Park. It starts with a strong premise with the potential to cast a satirical eye on the modern world, but the jokes are taken too far to be anything but cringe inducing, while the many attempts to remain topical by referencing real world events feel forced. The jokes are as obvious as the plot, and The Dictator is doing nothing but going through the motions of a film script, without ever delivering anything truly original or striking. The Dictator isn’t a patch on Borat, but then again it is still much better than Bruno.

- Bernard O’Rourke