At the Movies: ‘Dictator’ shows the hairy side of geopolitics
2.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley and Jason Mantzoukas
Everyone is quick to decry Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadaffi and the rest of their kind as modern-day monsters, but how many people have considered their point of view?
Well, a few minutes of “The Dictator” probably won’t endear you to such figures, but you’ll get a few laughs.
In the North African nation of Wadiya, all the residents live in absolute adoration of their ruler, Adm. Gen. Hafez Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen). The reason for their devotion is simple — they must either profess their allegiance or be killed on the spot.
Aladeen’s style of government, a dictatorship in which everyone caters to his every instantaneous whim, has made him the target of multiple assassination attempts and an enemy of nearly every country in the world. When he starts stockpiling weapons like there’s no tomorrow, the United Nations decides it can no longer turn a blind eye to his policies and insists Aladeen appear in New York City to defend his actions.
Upon arrival in the U.S., Aladeen is kidnapped by his hired security (John C. Reilly) and replaced by a double. While escaping with his life intact, the grand leader finds he can convince no one of his true identity.
What’s worse, he learns his replacement is set to bring about a whole new way of life to Wadiya, one from which Aladeen has always sworn to protect his people: democracy.
In creating Aladeen’s prominent beard, Baron Cohen must have borrowed the barber responsible for crafting Kid’s famous hairstyle from the hip hop duo Kid ‘n Play. You’d think once his noble facial hair is sliced off, the loudmouthed oppressor would learn to be a little more humble, but that’s no fun, now is it?
It makes little difference if he’s playing Borat, Brüno or Ali G, the British comic knows how to push everybody’s buttons, whether it’s the far right “America: Love It or Leave It” crowd that wants Aladeen dead purely on xenophobic principle or the leftists who want his head on a platter because of his complete disregard for humanity’s basic rights.
Anna Faris dresses down and adds some healthy amounts of armpit hair as hippie protester chick Zoey, who takes Aladeen under her wing, unaware he’s the same war criminal she thinks is the root of all the world’s evils.
She’s not too fond of his pauper identity either, at least when he keeps mistaking her for a prepubescent boy and spouting racist, misogynistic jingo.
More on the admiral general’s side is Wadiyan refugee Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), who agrees to help his former beloved tyrant get back in power as long as he can return to his old post as the head of the nuclear weapons program, a job which he lost thanks to arguing with Aladeen that perhaps Daffy Duck cartoons aren’t the best research for the construction of WMD’s.
If you think that sounds like a harsh reason to send someone to their death, Aladeen’s execution orders for someone whose only crime is bumping into him on the stairs must really shock you.
Never one to limit himself when it comes to outrageous characters, Baron Cohen pulls out all the stops with Aladeen’s heavy dialect — complete with a fake language teeming with h’s and f’s — and complete lack of shame in showing off his genitals, but by now, we’ve already seen it, in more ways than one.
The team works with a net this time around, and the lack of genuine reactions to unpredictable foreigners that made “Borat” so wonderfully candid hurts what is largely the same kind of story with more of a veneer. All the riches of Wadiya can’t buy the priceless satisfaction of creating a one-of-a-kind comedy experience.
Admittedly, Baron Cohen can get away with doing the same schtick over and over, but if he thinks we haven’t noticed, he must be as deluded as the man he portrays.
Droll but derivative, “The Dictator” doesn’t have to reach too far to lampoon American sensibilities in the same fashion its star has in the past. And, in some instances, the impromptu setup that made us love “Borat” just wouldn’t work.
Imagine how much trouble Baron Cohen would get into if he really went on a helicopter tour of New York, dropping phrases like “9/11” — the Porsche model — and “Statue of Liberty” while wearing a back brace that looks like a bomb.
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