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Film review: THE DICTATOR, from Built For Speed

Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the great comic talents of recent decades, just look at the Ali G Show, Borat and his turn in Talladega Nights.  Very little of this comic talent is evident, however, in his latest film The Dictator.

This film is essentially a collection of crass, juvenile gags that offer far less wit, inventiveness or originality than his other work.

Here he plays strangely bearded, Gaddafi- like dictator Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen a sleazy, vain, racist, sexist buffoon who holds a reign of terror over the people of fictional North African country Wadya and counts people like Kim Jong Il among his best buds. While on a trip to New York (anyone smell rehashed Borat) he’s betrayed by an advisor Tamir (Ben Kingsley) – who looks suspiciously like Afghan President Hamid Kazai – and to avoid his country submitting to the horrors of democracy he’s forced to team up with his natural enemy, a vegan feminist (Ana Faris).

The gags, which admittedly come at a rapid pace, mostly involve bodily functions, sexism and racial stereotypes.  As Borat showed, these types of gags can be funny if they’re used to expose perverse, up-tight attitudes and ingrained prejudices.  Unfortunately, Cohen is too well known to ambush real people, so The Dictator unlike Borat, is entirely scripted and fictional and with no cold hard reality for the gags to bounce off, many of the jokes just fall flat. Cohen also resorts to simple-minded, Jackass-style shock tactics such as having Aladeen defecate on someone’s head.

Some parts of the film work reasonably well such as the Austin Powers-like exchanges between Aladeen and various flunkies including his co-conspirator and weapons expert Nuclear Nidal (Jason Mantzoukas).  Also, Cohen’s observations about the similarities between his style of dictatorship and so-called American democracy are kind of amusing if not entirely original.

For the most part, though, The Dictator sees Cohen spinning his wheels.  Given Cohen’s previous work and the fact that this film was directed by Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm director Larry Charles, we would have expected much better.

 

Director: Larry Charles

Released: 16th May 2012

Running time: 83 mins.

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