Scripted fiction makes for a curiously inoffensive escapade from Sacha Baron Cohen... But is it funny?
Sacha Baron Cohen's past potentially offensive caricatures of political incorrectness were undignified, but on many occasions outrageously funny. The actor's latest attempt at portraying a character many wouldn't dare to act out might be right up your alley depending on your preferences when it comes to comedies. Possibly due to the deprivation of the formula that was born with Cohen's most successful film, Borat, which went stale with the later released Bruno, himself and director Larry Charles have returned to the actor's feature length, scripted roots (Ali G Indahouse: The Movie) with The Dictator. However, this film still follows in the footsteps and success of Cohen's last two character portrayals, despite being scripted, leading to the question of whether it holds up against those releases or not. The answer is simple, like the mind of Admiral General Aladeen himself; It very much depends of whether you found Bruno funny or utterly atrocious.
Yes, The Dictator doesn't quite hold up against most of Cohen's past films, especially those featuring streetwise imbecile Ali G and everybody's favourite Khazakstanian news reporter. With this statement intact, however, it's not to say that the actor's latest is at all bad, it's just not that great. Let's begin with the Admiral General himself, shall we? Considering that these films' main focus is to portray outrageous characters that could potentially spawn hilarious quotes and gags, I feel this is a suitable way to get my thoughts on The Dictator up and running in word form. Aladeen is a comedic yet forced character, who isn't anywhere near as memorable as his predecessors. Naturally, he's a tyrant, running the dictatorship over the Middle Eastern desert state of Wadiya. Part of the 'joke' surrounding the protagonist is his ignorance towards anything standing in the way of his rule, as opposed to any partially acceptable reasons as to why he opposes democracy and people who get on his nerves. From this ignorance, Admiral General Aladeen is born as a dangerous combination of Gaddafi and Suddam Hussein, with great power but questionable methods of acting out authority.
It's odd, then, that the character of Aladeen is strangely inoffensive. This is mainly due to the scripted nature of the plot - If the film had not been completely scripted and not produced in Hollwood-esque fashion and instead was played out like Borat or Bruno, the exploits of Aladeen probably wouldn't even have been finished, let alone released, and that's if Cohen would have survived the endeavor. Even the plot is curiously inoffensive...
The Dictator's adventure sees him having to carry out a speech to address the United Nations in an attempt to win them over, which goes horribly wrong after Aladeen's double is assassinated before the speech and another member of the Wadiyan government has a new double arranged to play the part of Aladeen. Unfortunately for the film's true protagonist, he is kidnapped soon after his arrival in New York and the new double is sent by the blatant antagonist of the film to carry out the speech with hilarious results. Through said hilarious results, Aladeen, upon escaping near-torture (the description of which would naturally be offensive, but like the film itself surprisingly isn't) has more time to address his fellow United Nations members. Through his kidnapping, however, Aladeen has his Middle-Eastern Chris Palmer (Catterick) look degenerated through the comedic removal of his beard. Following this, nobody recognises the tyrant and he is eventually acquainted by the Lisa Simpson-like Zoey, a major veggie and owner of an organic produce retailer. One thing leads to another and Aladeen is reacquainted with a rocket scientist who once worked under his rule, supposedly killed but set free by Aladeen's pacifist executioner. The former rocket scientist agrees to help him reclaim his throne for his job back in return, and they soon discover that they can do this through the protagonist returning to Zoey. From here on out, the plot becomes frustratingly predictable which is one of the film's crucial losses. Having said this, however, the humour is mostly anything but.
Did I laugh at The Dictator's attempts at tickling its viewers funny bones? For the most part, yes, and what with Cohen's latest film once again fitting under the genre that is comedy, that's really the most important thing about the 80-minute experience. The humour found in this release is for the most part laughable, but once again there is a downside - conventional and at times extremely desperate gags often rule the roost. The soundtrack is also in vein of the humour; shouts of "Aladeen Mo'fo!!" bring up a reminiscence of the childish but hilarious Team America: World Police, which is very funny, but as I noted previously, rather desperate. You'll see if you end up watching the film. Thankfully, however, many of the funnier moments hadn't been broadcast in trailers (I'm looking at you, The Other Guys) so don't expect to not be taken by surprise on numerous occasions. My laughs were partially induced by the fact that I was with friends when I saw The Dictator, but nevertheless you may find it funny depending on your sense of humour, and that's really all that matters. The rest of the cinema were laughing at Aladeen's exploits, so there's a good chance you will, too.
In conclusion, The Dictator isn't a great film, but it's not a bad one either. The plot is predictable but enjoyable, the characters are a long shot from beating Cohen's former creations but still set the scene for some funny jokes, and overall the experience is a good laugh with some friends. On this note, I wouldn't recommend watching The Dictator on your own, as it's more enjoyable as a social experience given the open nature of the humour and the easy-to-understand storyline and world. I can't imagine watching this film ever again through my own recommendation, but that doesn't mean it doesn't warrant a first watch from anyone reading this. If you think you'll enjoy The Dictator, by all means snap it up, just don't expect it to be as clever, inventive or unconventional as the likes of Ali G and Borat.