Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
“I love it when women go to school. It’s like seeing a monkey on rollerskates. It means nothing to them, but it’s so adorable for us.”
There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of crude comedy. Nob gags, masturbation, slightly racist but somehow okay because its ironic stereotyping etc are all fine if handled by the right people and backed up by some degree of intelligence. Unfortunately Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest attempt at the ‘foreign guy go’s to America’ formula is all out unashamedly low brow and absent of any kind of brains.
The Dictator harks back to the Ali G movie’s level of trashy, childish and slightly irritating comedy – the kind of film which expects its audience to uncontrollably howl at the mere sight of a seaman stained tissue. But more importantly than the pitch of the humour is the simply scarcity of decent laughs on offer. The first half an hour is a truly excruciating cringe fest of heavily signposted and quick fire gags which entirely fall flat. Whereas Cohen has become a master of realistic docu-style confrontational comedy there is a distinct lack of timing noticeable when trying his hand at this more old school slap stick comedy.
After the entirely forgettable first half things do get markedly better once our hapless bigot has been let loose on the streets of New York. The script settles down into the kind of inappropriate dark comedy Cohen does best, even managing to sneak in a few memorable moments which salvage things from being a complete waste of an hour and a half, including an inspired combination of the Nintendo Wii and international terorism. Its impossible however to ignore that most of the big moments rely on some rather tame attempts at shock comedy including a penis slamming against a window and a prolonged scene shot inside of a paper mache vagina. It’s as if the fifteen American Pie movies never even happened. There are other real low points of puerile school yard humour which only highlight the contrived and failed attempt to push the limits of shock comedy. If a man making up garbled words in a vaguely Arabic way is your kind of thing then maybe you’ll disagree.
Perhaps it would only be fair to judge the Dictator on its own terms of brash lewdness if that is its thing, that is if it weren’t for the many clumsy attempts at political satire which have clearly been dumbed down for the younger audiences, culminating in a head in hands moment as Cohen delivers a climatic ‘scathing’ monologue full of innuendo.
A big part of the problem is that Cohen’s latest creation General Aladeen is barely distinguishable to Borat other than the characters different social background. Imagine Borat brought up in a royal palace and you get the picture. Arrogance and naivety are Aladeen’s only real comedy weapons and we have seen it all before. Sexism, anit antisemitism, homophobia, all abound as Aladeen tries to make sense of the strange and decadent multicultural ways of the Western world – its easy to imagine most of the script being pieced together from the crappy gags which didn’t make it into the final cut of Borat.
With a little luck The Dictator may prove to be as far as Cohen can take his wacky characters pointing fun at America routine and he will have to try to use his proven talent at something a bit more original.