Movie review: The Dictator (+trailer)

By Russell Baillie

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Is Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator as good as Borat or Bruno? Reviewer Russell Baillie finds out.

Sacha Baron Cohen in character as Admiral General Aladeen in The Dictator. Photo / AP
Sacha Baron Cohen in character as Admiral General Aladeen in The Dictator. Photo / AP

Here's a really funny moment in The Dictator: Admiral General Omar Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), supreme ruler of Wadiya, is in New York about to sign a new constitution which will bring democracy to the country, somewhere on the horn of Africa, he has personally oppressed with boundless cruelty since being born into the role.

Only, he's changed his mind and is explaining to the gathered dignitaries why: that if America was a dictatorship then ... and so begins a long list of why it really wouldn't be that much different to the post 9/11, post-GEC of the USA today.

It's several smart points, well made. Only problem is, that's pretty much the final curtain and that's pretty much it for political satire of any real resonance.

The rest is, well, Sacha Baron Cohen playing a Gaddafi-like despot doing the outlandish, outrageous things we've come to expect from the comic genius formerly known as Borat.

One whose genius status was diminished somewhat by the more recent Bruno.

Another problem though. This one has a script, unlike the improvisational spontaneity which gave both Borat and, in parts, Bruno, such a madly dangerous edge.

Yes, this is offensive. No one can deliver gasp-inducing anti-Semitic jokes quite like the Jewish Baron Cohen. Among many others, this has a gag involving the Munich Olympics and a videogame played by Aladeen that should sure bring the house down in Tel Aviv.

But for all its incidents of oh-yes-he-did, there's still some things missing. Like his old sense of daring - predictably Baron Cohen's Aladeen skirts around anything that might offend Islam.

In his previous movies, you could admire his confrontational bravery. This one is curiously soft in the big points it wants to score.

Yes, it's film snob thing to say, but Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator way back in 1940 before the US joined the war, was far more courageous than this post-Arab Spring dance on Gaddafi's grave.

Otherwise this is feeling not that far away from Adam Sandler's mildly amusing Don't Mess With the Zohan, about a former Israeli commando who prefers life as a New York hairdresser.

This contrives to leave Aladeen unrecognised, penniless and mistaken for a Wadiya refugee on the streets of New York and replaced by his idiot body double at the United Nations.

He's taken in by Zooey (Faris), a vegan-feminist who gives him a job in her Brooklyn food co-op. Being a good fascist, he actually improves how the co-op runs.

She, though, is really there to improve him. Though thankfully not in the conventional romantic comedy sense - having been introduced to the joys of onanism, Aladeen loses some of his cruel streak for a while.

Otherwise, his misogyny and Zooey's wide-eyed liberal tolerance at least gives the otherwise sketchy middle of this some spark.

But really, there's not a lot to The Dictator. What with the marketing campaign that started with Baron Cohen in character on the Oscars' red carpet, and this week's tailored-to-each-country trailers, you can't help but think the 80-minute movie behind it all is slight and clumsy. A film, while fitfully amusing, that just doesn't deliver on its outrageous promise.

And as a Baron Cohen character, Admiral General Aladeen is still outranked by Borat and the rest of the squad.

What: The Dictator
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris and Ben Kingsley
Director: Larry Charles
Rating: R16 (offensive language, sexual material and other content that may offend)
Running time: 84 mins
Verdict: Slightly torturous tyrant satire.
Stars: 3/5

Watch the trailer for The Dictator:

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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