DIR: Larry Charles • WRI: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer • PRO: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Scott Randin, Jeff Schaffer • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Greg Hayden, Eric Kissack • DES: Victor Kempster • Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris
It’s been a few months now since Sacha Baron Cohen unleashed his latest creation Admiral General Aladeen on the world, and the ‘ashes’ of the late Kim Jong-Il on Ryan Seacrest, at the 2012 Academy Awards. But audiences could be forgiven for forgetting the somewhat uninspired character in the interim. Simply a foppish version of Muammar Gaddafi, Aladeen has none of the originality seen in Baron Cohen’s greatest characters, Ali G or Borat.
This time round he eschews the mockumentary style of Borat and Brüno (one assumes Baron Cohen is simply too recognisable now to pull those off) in favour of a paint-by-numbers tale of self-discovery, with plenty of racism and sexual organs.
Aladeen is the dictator-for-life of the oil-rich North African nation of Wadiya, busy exploiting his wealth with fast cars, celebrity bedfellows and uranium enriching. Visiting the UN to tell them their weapons inspectors will not be admitted to Wadiya, he is deposed by his villainous uncle (although in the greater scheme of things only about half as villainous as Aladeen himself) Tamir, played by an amusingly game Ben Kingsley, and replaced with a double.
Cast out into the streets of New York, Aladeen begins to learn life lessons, sort of, while he plots to take back his throne and halt the democratisation of his country. But first he must help hippy Zoey (Anna Faris) save her Brooklyn organic food store from being squeezed out by corporate competition – it turns out experience in barking despotic orders is well-suited to middle management.
With nothing new in its story, Larry Charles’ film is forced to rely on its gags to pass the time. But many of the jokes are weak or needlessly offensive, and many of these go too far, even more so than in the last Charles/Baron Cohen film, Brüno.
The film’s Brooklyn hipster subplot scrapes the barrel for gags, while John C. Reilly’s anti-Arab bodyguard delivers satirical racism without a pinch of humour. One sequence involving a (seemingly unending) joke about child rape is likely to cause more walkouts than Charlie Casanova.
But there are some fine moments of comedy. A decapitated head steals the show, while Wadiyan remixes of famous chart songs bring back memories of Borat’s finest hours. One inspired sequence involving a misunderstanding of a conversation about crashing a Porsche 911 while flying over New York is painfully funny, while the film’s final speech about ‘what if America was a dictatorship’ is guaranteed to become a must-see when it hits YouTube later this year.
Sadly, the film is far from must-see, and its joke to miss ratio is barely better than 50/50, a shame for a film that only just scrapes 80 minutes in length. Baron Cohen brings nothing new to the table, while a handful of celebrity cameos are either too obvious or confusing to enliven proceedings. Anna Faris can be admired for allowing her body to be the target of so many of the film’s jokes, but her character is little more than a plot device.
All in all this is a slight entertainment for the South Park crowd. When its offensive jokes are thought through, they are triumphs. But for the most part it comes down to calling black people ‘black person’ and various anti-Semitic clichés, which, six years after Borat, just isn’t enough any more.
Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Dictator is released on 18th May 2012