Sacha Baron Cohen comedy, directed by Larry Charles (Borat, Curb Your Enthusiasm), about a tyrant hell-bent on ensuring democracy never arrives in the country he lovingly oppresses. Co-stars Anna Faris, John C. Reilly and Ben Kingsley. Click here for movie times.
It’s perhaps wise that Sacha Baron Cohen has ditched the mock-documentary format of his previous satirical efforts Borat and Bruno for something resembling conventional narrative with The Dictator. Whereas the sly trick he pulled off in Borat to needle his unsuspecting subjects into revealing their prejudices seemed fresh and funny the first time round, the novelty had already grown stale with Bruno.
However, his latest socio-political farce, combining Coming to America-like fish-out-of-water comedy with the tasteless anarchy of Team America: World Police, doesn’t quite signal a marked change in quality with the format shift: it’s an expectedly scattershot and sketchy film.
From the opening cheeky dedication to late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, the primary mission here is to stir as much popcorn-choking outrage as possible via Cohen’s Saddam surrogate Admiral General Aladeen, a cheerful North African tyrant who finds himself in New York trying to thwart an imposter from transforming his nation into a democracy. Some of it works: the idea that Aladeen’s former nuclear physicist is now a Mac drone, the bluntly drawn parallels between the US administration and Aladeen’s dictatorship, and okay, the odd masturbation/toilet gag got me.
But Cohen’s everything-under-the-sun approach also yields some naff stuff, particularly when it goes beyond the pale with queasily protracted child-rape jokes that hang around like a bad stink. And for all its attempts at transgressive humour, the film settles into woefully routine rom-com groove with the unlikely subplot where Aladeen falls for feminist tree-hugger Anna Faris.