Saturday, 5 May 2012

FILM REVIEW: THE DICTATOR


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing




Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a list of so-called funny men who I simply do not find funny: Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Adam Sandler and Vince Vaughan to name but a few. Also on that list is British comic actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, whose alter egos, Ali G, Borat and Bruno, I simply don't get.

I had half expected to feel similarly out of the loop with Baron Cohen's latest creation, Admiral General Aladeen, the ruling despot of fictitious Middle Eastern nation, Wadiya. But much to my surprise, I found myself more amused than annoyed by this politically incorrect political pariah.

Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen) is the eponymous dictator, who has ruled Wadiya since age 7, and is one of the world's last remaining tyrants (the film is dedicated to the loving memory of the late North Korean despot, Kim Jong-il); hording his nation's wealth and ordering the execution of anyone who dares question his intellect, or who simply beats him to the prize in the cereal box.

But when Aladeen travels to New York to address the United Nations' concerns over Wadiya's nuclear aspirations, his uncle, Tamir (Ben Kinglsey), the rightful heir to the Wadiyan throne, sets in motion his plan to rule; replacing Aladeen with a body double (also Baron Cohen, playing a slow-witted goat herder), and bringing democracy to Wadiya.

This last move will enable Tamir to sell-off the country's vast oil reserves to foreign interests, including a Chinese capitalist (Bobby Lee) with a penchant for Hollywood cock (one of the film's most brazen jokes is to call-out Hollywood's A-listers as whores; Megan Fox appears early on, as herself, collecting a pay cheque for bedding Aladeen; the latest in a line of many).

When Aladeen's assassin (John C. Reilly) fails in his assignment, the now beardless Aladeen finds himself down and out in downtown NYC. He "befriends" Zoey (Anna Faris), a boyish-looking lady protesting the dictator's visit to the UN, who operates the Free Earth Collective, a bleeding heart, left wing cliche-riddled co-operative.

It's Zoey, along with Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), Wadiya's one-time head of nuclear operations -- who escaped to America after Aladeen ordered him executed (he wanted the missiles to have rounded rather than the leader's preferred pointy heads) -- who will help Aladeen regain his title and perhaps bring about a change of mind, and tiny black heart, in the process.

The plot of The Dictator parallels somewhat with the 2008 Adam Sandler "comedy", Don't Mess With The Zohan, where Sandler's Mossad agent, Zohan, moves to New York city, begins a new life as hairdresser, and brings peace to the Jewish and Middle Eastern communities of New York (Baron Cohen even blatantly borrows a sight gag from 'Zohan' involving a hirsute pubic region).

But where Zohan was typical Sandler nonsense (juvenilia topped with schmaltz), The Dictator is far more barbed, with something to offend every race, colour, gender, and sexual and political persuasion. It's also, thankfully, much shorter; The Dictator clocking in at a mere 83 minutes.

That's long enough for Baron Cohen's tyrant to undergo a transformation of sorts (Aladeen's still not completely sold on the idea of democracy or equality of the sexes by film's end), but not too long for the premise to run completely out of steam.

Granted, not all of those jokes hit their target perfectly, nor is Baron Cohen above the scatological, but there is a sting in the tail of The Dictator, directed by regular collaborator, Larry Charles (Borat (2006); Bruno (2009)), which makes for an ultimately satisfying satire.

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