The Dictator (Paramount)
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images.
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas, Anna Faris, J. B. Smoove, Megan Fox,John C. Reilly, B. J. Novak.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer.
Directed by Larry Charles.
Terrorist, fascist dictators are SO funny...or are they? That's one thing Sacha Baron Cohen is out to prove in his latest comedy The Dictator.
Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, supreme ruler of the fictional Wadiya, a small oil-rich country situated somewhere on or near the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. An evil despot, Aladeen subjects his countrymen to extreme poverty and totalitarian rule while he lives in gawdy luxury.
When Aladeen is threatened with a foreign invasion unless he allows nuclear weapons inspectors inside Wadiya, he travels to New York City to address the United Nations. Once there, Aladeen is kidnapped through a plot devised by his closest advisor Tamir (Ben Kingsley) and a moronic body double takes his place. Tamir's plan is to turn Wadiya into a democracy in order to make greedy deals with oil companies.
Aladeen escapes his captor (John C. Reilly) and is forced to live as a homeless New Yorker until he meet the unshaven, homely, uber-liberal vegan market owner Zoey (Ana Faris) who allows him to work at her business. Aladeen soon discovers some of his deposed countrymen are living in New York City, including his own former chief nuclear scientist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), who agrees to help him get rid of the body double and prevent Wadiya from becoming a democracy.
Hilarity ensues, our hero falls in love with Zoey and Aladeen must take drastic measures to infiltrate Tamir's plot and prevent the signing of a new Wadiyan constitution.
I was not a fan of Cohen's previous attempt at humor (Bruno) mostly due to his cheap, extreme and obscene tactics. Also, his dependence on "mockumentary" style film making was getting old ever since his hilarious Borat pushed the envelope of taste in 2006. The good news is, Cohen dialed the raunchy stuff back from the low Bruno levels and abandoned the "mockumentary," opting for a full-fledged romantic comedy farce instead.
Some of the jokes in The Dictator are very funny (including a hilarious helicopter ride over NYC) and it's not just Cohen who seems to be the only one who thinks the gags are funny. Having an actual script instead of Cohen's usual dependency on an improvised stream of obscene consciousness might have something to do with that.
All restraint aside, there are plenty of gags that push the boundaries of taste in The Dictator without resorting to copious amounts of male frontal nudity ("brief" this time - thankfully) that have been a Cohen staple until now. There are things that others may find offensive, including a rant by Aladeen that could have been taken from MoveOn.org's talking points (offensive to conservatives, maybe) and the cartoonish stereotyping of Middle Eastern people. I suppose liberals might also take offense at Cohen's treatment of vegan markets and their clientele, so everybody just about every group can get involved in the outrage often associated with Cohen's films. Listen, if you attend any Cohen film expecting to witness a treatise on politically-correct speech and behavior, you're delusional.
If you strip away all the things that could offend you, The Dictator is a funny film, and certainly Cohen's best work since Borat.