Review No. 509
“The Dictator” speaks of painfully humorous comedy!
DIRECTED BY LARRY CHARLES. PRODUCED BY SACHA BARON COHEN, ALEC BERG, JEFF SCHAFFER, DAVID MANDEL, ANTHONY HINES, AND SCOTT RUDIN. WRITTEN BY BARON COHEN, BERG, SCHAFFER, AND MANDEL. STARRING BARON COHEN (PRESIDENT PRIME MINISTER ADMIRAL GENERAL HAFFAZ ALADEEN / ALISON BURGERS / EFAWADH), ANNA FARIS (ZOEY), AND BEN KINGSLEY (TAMIR). ALSO STARRING JASON MANTZOUKAS, BOBBY LEE, SAYED BADREYA, ADEEL AKHTAR, FRED ARMISEN, MARK CAMPBELL, GAD ELMALEH, SUSAN SYKES, JON GLASER, AND CHRIS PARNELL. FEATURING A CAMEO APPEARANCE BY MEGAN FOX. DISTRIBUTED BY PARAMOUNT PICTURES ON MAY 16, 2012. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH, ARABIC, AND HEBREW BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 23 MINUTES. INTENDED FOR MATURE VIEWERS, DUE TO BRIEF NUDITY, PROFANITY, AND INTENSE VIOLENCE.
THE DICTATOR WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 28, 2013.
General Aladeen (Baron Cohen): “I accept your job offer as general manager.”
Zoey (Faris): “Well, you can’t be the manager because I’m the manager.”
General Aladeen: “Well, I can if I killed you.”
The Dictator is the ideal mockumentary film in the post-Christopher Guest age. It’s equal parts witty and outrageous, with the likelihood to draw laughs from the demographics it satirizes. In two words, the movie is politically incorrect, and if that floats your boat (or just doesn’t sink it), then this is eighty minutes of weight-lifting for your lungs.
The movie–dedicated to Kim Jong-Il–opens with a dictator in the Republic of Wadiya, a fictional North African country. His name is Haffaz Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), and he’s misogynous, anti-American, antisemitic, lustful, etc. Quite the caricature. When he learns he is to be assassinated, Aladeen sends a body double to rule Wadiya, while he himself stays hidden in Manhattan. Could this body double maintain order in Wadiya, or could his ineptitude at the job lead him to abolish the dictatorship?
The Dictator is a satisfying movie. In fact, it’s easily the most quotable movie of 2012, and a contender for the first half of the decade. There’s some genuine verbal comedy offered in the absence of predictable slapstick. Try not laughing during the “terrorism misinterpretation” scene! Perhaps even better would be the final moments, when Aladeen asks American citizen Zoey (Anna Faris) if she is “having a boy or an abortion.” The list goes on.
Where the screenplay runs into trouble is in developing its characters. There’s several instances in which Sacha Baron Cohen seems to carry his character by means of method acting, not writing. When he addresses a man whom he calls “sub-Saharan,” he doesn’t say “hello;” he says “yo.” Although it’s funny, is it really possible Aladeen hates Americans, and yet he talks with fully westernized parlance? Let’s not forget, the Americans in the film are utter caricatures. It’s, again, funny but also strange and ironic that the Americans can’t relate to Aladeen at all, despite being exactly the same. If I weren’t an American citizen, the movie would make me think of Americans as a country that heralds racism, sexism, and what have you. Maybe this is the one defiance of the movie’s otherwise genius assessment of not-so-PC humor. I’ll reiterate that it’s good weight lifting for the lungs.