Much like Andy Kaufman before him, Sacha Baron Cohen has mastered the art of creating believably comical characters and remaining in gimmick for public appearances for further comedic confusion. With Ali G, Borat and Brüno, he has elevated ethnic stereotypes, scatology and other generally offensive subjects to levels so discomforting that the only way to respond is by laughing.
While Da Ali G Show, Borat and Brüno were presented as faux reality shows and mockumentaries, with unsuspecting celebrities, politicians and civilians involuntarily becoming the brunt of the jokes, Cohen’s latest movie The Dictator (in theaters May 16) does not pretend to be anything more than a funny work of fiction. But that doesn’t mean the political satire and overall absurdity are any less hilarious or profane. Co-written by Cohen, The Dictator features Cohen as Admiral General Aladeen, the bumbling dictator of the North African Republic of Wadiya. The Dictator chronicles Aladeen’s inadvertent rise to power as a child up to his current tyrannical reign, which allows him such luxuries as paying American celebrities for sex and having people executed for things such as building a nuclear bomb with a rounded tip instead of a pointy one.
When Aladeen is summoned to New York for United Nations peace talks, the culture clash that you’ve either come to love or hate about Cohen’s characters reaches its breaking point. After being abducted and having his beard removed by a bigoted Secret Serviceman (John C. Reilly), Aladeen escapes to find that his right-hand man (Ben Kingsley) has replaced him with an even more incompetent lookalike, with plans of bringing democracy to Wadiya. When a feminist activist named Zoey (Anna Faris) mistakes Aladeen for a fellow protestor to his own mysogynistic regime, she offers him a job at her ailing organic grocery store. Ironically, it’s his fascist ways that turns things around for the store.
Though his intent is to find a way back into the UN to expose his imposter and prevent the fall of his totalitarian rule, Aladeen finds himself succumbing to his secret desire to have a real relationship with a woman. And Faris’ outspokenness eventually impresses him, mostly because she reminds him a lot of himself, oddly enough. But as is the case with Cohen’s other films, the beginning and end aren’t nearly as entertaining as what happens in between. And such is the case with The Dictator, which includes scenes where Aladeen and his cohort (Jason Mantzoukas) frighten American tourists on a helicopter ride by speaking in their native tongue about a Porsche 911 and another where Aladeen loses his cell phone while helping a woman give birth.
The great thing about The Dictator (as well as Cohen’s other movies) is that the the seemingly sophomoric humor is not gratuitous. The fact that the humor is very much based in reality and that there is clearly a heavy dose of societal and political satire at work here (especially in Aladeen’s speech towards the end of the film) is what makes Cohen’s comedy resonate on many levels. And even though The Dictator doesn’t rely on Cohen’s usual tactic of humorously exposing the faults of real people, it’s still just as insightfully funny as anything he’s done previously.
The Dictator. Directed by Larry Charles. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley and Jason Mantzoukas. Rated R. www.republicofwadiya.com.