Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
I’m going to start this review off by saying that it is hard to like a movie like The Dictator and it’s hard to not like a movie like The Dictator. How’s that for playing both sides of the fence kids? “Pray tell my good man, how did you come to such a hard line stance”? Settle down son, we’ll get to that but first let’s talk about the lighting rod of division known as Sacha Baron Cohen. I’m not a fan of either Borat or Bruno. I just felt for all of Sacha’s efforts to shock and awe us; he really went after easy targets. What are you really expecting to see when you film two men kissing at a cage fighting match, where people in the audience are wearing shirts with homophobic phrases on them? But Baron Cohen, in such movies as Talladega Nights, Hugo, Sweeney Todd I like quite a bit (especially Hugo)
So here we have The Dictator, where you have a marriage of a scripted narrative but with Baron Cohen giving us a Bruno/Borat façade. It works and it doesn’t. The first 20 minutes of the movie are pretty rough waters, which basically introduces us to Cohen’s General Aladeen, as he rules the country of Wadiya with loving oppression. He sits on an ocean of oil, pays for sex with Hollywood starlets (Megan Fox in a scene that could’ve been funnier) and is working on building a nuclear bomb. Everything about these first minutes of the movie are painfully unfunny and as I sat watching this, I got nervous that I was in for a miserable experience. Aladeen is told by his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) that he needs to address the United Nations regarding their nuclear program. Tamir you see also has his own agenda (which I won't spoil) and this is where to movie starts to make up for it’s awful start.
When in New York, Aladeen is kidnapped by a man (an all too brief appearance by John C. Reilly), who is paid to kill Aladeen. After a brief but amusing exchange about torture devices, Aladeen’s trademark beard is cut off and is left wandering the streets of the Big Apple, alone and unknown. While trying to get into the U.N to give his speech, Aladeen meets Zoey (Anna Faris) a super liberal feminist who runs an organic grocery and love suddenly fills the air. Aladeen also runs into his old nuclear physicist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), a man Aladeen ordered to be killed but as we find out, those requests didn’t always happen in Wadiya.
It’s weird to say this, but the movie could’ve benefited from being longer than its 83 minute run time. The movie moves at such a brisk pace that the jokes aren’t really given enough time to be fleshed out. There are moments where I laughed. Most coming from Nadal and Aladeen interactions as they hatch a plan to get Aladeen back into power. Jason Mantzoukas’ Nadal deserves a ton of credit for giving this movie life. You may not know his name, but if you’ve seen The League on FX, Mantzoukas plays Rafi and if you know that, nothing more needs to be said. The dude is pretty funny here as well.
And I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention Anna Faris and her characters interactions with Aladeen. These provide some pleasant (and a couple of funny) moments. But as I stated before, once this movie settles into itself and New York, it really isn’t allowed to grow and for that the comedy suffers. Which is a shame, there are a few scenes, had they been given more time, could’ve have been fricking hilarious, instead they're just amusing. There is one sort of running bit though involving a Chinese diplomat and later Edward Norton that nails it’s purpose.
Is the movie offensive? Well, I don’t have a lot of sacred cows in my world, so I wasn’t offended by its intended ignorant, oppressing and crude depiction of races and genders. That’s the point of Cohen’s character. I guess if you can find humor in a scene involving a man talking into a woman’s vagina because his phone is stuck inside her vagina, you won’t have a problem here. I laughed, but I could've laughed way more than I did.