When Sacha Baron Cohen made his previous two films, Borat and Brüno, he infamously used real-life individuals as part of his comedy. It worked, in part, because the majority of the individuals weren’t in on the joke. The mockumentary style worked well with the outrageous, offensive humor.
The biggest problem with Baron Cohen’s newest film, The Dictator, is that it forgoes the mockumentary format in exchange for something that technically resembles a plot. Baron Cohen stars as Admiral General Aladeen, the over-the-top dictator of a fictitious North African country called Wadiya. After taking some time to show Aladeen’s particular brand of tyranny in Wadiya, the story moves Aladeen to Manhattan, where Aladeen plans to address the U.N. Tired of Aladeen’s reign, his second-in-command, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), sets in motion a plan to assassinate Aladeen and bring democracy to Wadiya. When the assassination attempt fails (leaving him beardless in the process), he’s left to wander around Manhattan, where he encounters Zoey (Anna Faris), a stereotypical ultra-eco-friendly feminist.
In short: it’s a fairly conventional plot with an unconventional sense of humor, the latter being quintessential to anything by Baron Cohen.
My biggest problem when it comes to this film is whether or not to recommend it. As far as the construction of a plot goes, The Dictator falls flat. It’s threadbare, and essentially serves to move the film over its 85-minute running time with as many jokes crammed in as possible. While there are certainly worse constructs for a film, the traditional form used here shows just how well Baron Cohen’s previous films worked because of their format.
As a comedy, I can’t deny that the movie is hilarious, even though it’s so offensive at times, “offensive” doesn’t quite convey the tone. Obscene, vulgar, crude, vile, and disgusting also don’t quite cover it. Fair warning: if you’re easily offended, you have no business reading this review, let alone actually watching The Dictator. Also worth noting: one source of humor that was consistently jarring to me, as well as to the audience I sat in, involved repeated rape humor. If nothing else, consider yourself warned.
Basically, a film like this comes down to the humor more often than not. If you’re a fan of Baron Cohen’s work in Borat and Brüno, you’ll likely laugh at this film as well. Ignore the plot. You’ll be better off for it.