Review of The Dictator


Movie Review: "The Dictator"

--Rating: R (brief male nudity, crude sex scenes, violent images, language)
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: May 16, 2012
Directed by: Larry Charles
Genre: Comedy

When we first meet General Admiral Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) he is just an infant, though he already has a complete beard exactly like the sprawling one the adult Aladeen will have. He is toddling around his native Wadiya, a fictional country in northern Africa. Wadiya has always been something of a rogue state that the United Nations (UN) has always had to deal with. This does not change once the adult Aladeen becomes dictator of the country.

Once he takes over, Aladeen proceeds to show himself to be a bit of a sociopath. He plays video games where the goal is to behead as many people as possible. He later begins to do the same to real people, ordering his citizens to death for reasons that wouldn't get them so much as a traffic ticket anywhere else. He shows himself to be vain, arrogant and promiscuous. He flies in Hollywood celebrities just to have sex with them, keeping pictures of his conquests on his wall. Megan Fox has a cameo as herself, playing the object of Aladeen's voracious sexual appetite.

This may all sound rather grim, and it would be if handled by anyone else. Cohen, who also co-wrote the script, makes sure to remind the audience that it is a comedy. Most of the violence looks straight out of a comic book and the action is pretty funny, even if it is a bit far-fetched.

The UN comes calling once again because Aladeen is rumored to be developing a nuclear weapon. This is a big no-no, and the UN hints at forcing sanctions and possibly battle if Wadiya does not come clean about any nuclear plans. In an effort to stave off the UN council, Aladeen decides to fly to New York City to meet with officials and assuage their fears.

Once Aladeen lands in New York, the plot begins to unfold. He has a body double because his life has been threatened by an anonymous source who turns out to be his premier, Tahir (Ben Kingsley). Tahir is planning to get rid of Aladeen because he feels he is the rightful heir to the throne of Wadiya. Aladeen is clueless about this, despite the fact that Tahir does occasionally show disdain for him and his practices.

In a set of somewhat twisted circumstances, Aladeen's signature beard catches on fire. Though he is miraculously not hurt, his beloved beard is completely gone, rendering him unnoticeable to nearly everyone. Since nobody knows he is the hated dictator, he decides to stroll around New York City as someone else, leaving his unwitting body double to deal with Tahir.

While exploring New York, Aladeen meets an ardent feminist activist named Zoey (Anna Faris). Zoey instantly likes the incognito dictator, although if she knew who he was, she would despise him due to her politics. In true Cohen fashion, the character is heavily stereotyped as a vegetarian who does not shave her armpits. Despite the stereotypes, Faris injects Zoey with lots of spunk and an underlying sweetness that Aladeen finds irresistible despite his cold heart.

The two are thrust together through more incredible circumstances and the dictator's cold heart begins to melt. The audience is meant to dislike Aladeen, but seeing him embroiled in a love story with his polar opposite may just make them like him.

All of this leads up to the climactic speech in front of the UN. Here, Cohen's signature social commentary comedy really comes alive. He slices apart the current state of United States politics with a very sharp knife, exposing the deep underbelly. Even if the audience doesn't really follow politics, they will likely get a big laugh out of just how smart the dictator comes across during this speech.

Cohen is his usual brass self while in character. Faris really shines here, taking what could have been a stock caricature and turning it into a touching performance. Kingsley may not have a ton of scenes, but he does the best with what he has, giving a vicious and unrelenting undertone to the power-hungry Tahir.

Even if viewers are not familiar with Cohen's mix of over-the-top comedy, they will still enjoy "The Dictator" on its own merits. Those who have seen his previous films may be surprised by the addition of a true love interest, which Borat and Bruno never had. Cohen stretches his comedy muscles a bit here, and the audience reaps the rewards.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars