It's always been entertaining to see Sacha Baron Cohen disappear into an overly eccentric character and the surrounding "real" world attempt to adapt to his presence. In The Dictator, the approach differs greatly from both Borat and Bruno in that Aladeen is displayed as a hokey mockery - and an equally farcical host of caricatures encircles him. The whole affair is presented as a parody and not reality, and worse yet Aladeen feels utterly fictitious. No longer does a documentarian follow around an uncontrollable social misfit who might just be real - now a filmmaker blandly captures a comedian portraying a movie character.
Ever since inheriting the dictatorship of the North African country of Wadiya, egomaniacal self-proclaimed Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) has ruled with an iron fist and a complete disregard for the needs of his people. When his corrupted Uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) attempts to have him executed in order to sell off the rights to Wadiya's oil supply, Aladeen escapes only to find himself exiled and in the streets of New York City. Going to work for Zoey (Anna Faris), the owner of an organic grocery market, the disgraced dictator hatches a plan with his former nuclear physicist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) to regain his throne (which is about to be democratically constitutionalized). But when the supreme ruler unexpectedly falls in love, the fate of Wadiya and its notorious commander hangs in the balance.
The Dictator employs a screenplay so flummoxing it's tricky to put derision into words. Less than three mildly intelligent (yet always offensive) political railleries sneak their way into a script (one being the events of Munich turned into a first-person-shooter Wii game) so stuffed with verbal violation it rarely gives audiences a chance to be shocked at the poor taste. None of it is the smarter satire, spoofing of relevant current events, or commentary on political and social arenas that frequent Cohen's other works, or even the pure outrageousness of foreign miscommunications and rampant nudity. This is no Borat. Instead, we're given either the extremely detestable jokes on terrorism, 9/11, bin Laden, abduction, rape, and torture, or visual yucks from childbirth, masturbating, and other bodily excretions. It's rarely as much of an exhibition as it is plainly ridiculous.
Perhaps the greatest fault with the presentation is the decision to remove the pseudo-documentary style of Cohen's previous efforts in favor of a traditional narrative. The Dictator has a story. And it's a weak, silly, nonsensical, and pointless one. If the filmmakers had continued with the "reality TV" method in which cameramen follow around Aladeen as he misconducts himself in all sorts of awkward, professional scenarios (like the first 10 minutes do to introduce the role), this entire ordeal could have had some genuine laughs. Casting well-known actors and including a love theme do little more than make Aladeen's tale entirely unbelievable and unconvincing. It's abrasive and unmemorable - a sad change from the caustic ridicule he so brilliantly devised with Borat (and even Bruno).
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
The Massie Twins are identical twin film critics who have been professionally reviewing movies full time for over 5 years, appearing on TV, radio, online and in print. They are members of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the Internet Film Critic Society and their work can be seen at GoneWithTheTwins.com