CliqueClack Flicks

The Dictator pushes buttons to make you laugh and feel uncomfortable

The Dictator - Theater Review
Release Date: 05/16/2012 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 4 Clacks

Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles team up again for 'The Dictator,' a scripted comedy guaranteed to make your skin crawl just a bit.

Sasha Baron Cohen as "The Dictator"

Sacha Baron Cohen‘s The Dictator tells the story of Admiral General Aladeen, a North African dictator who risks his life to make sure democracy never comes to a country he so loving oppresses. But when the UN begins to make demands of Aladeen to admit to and end his country’s nuclear program, Aladeen must travel to the US to explain that there really is no nuclear program (there is). Aladeen, however, has no idea that his most trusted advisers have been plotting to over-throw him and bring democracy to their country of Wadiya. After being replaced by an imbecilic double, Aladeen must try to regain his power but finds things may not be so bad in this strange new world of New York.

Sure it all sounds like a simple comedy of clashing cultures, but if you know anything about Cohen and his last two films, you’ll know that there is much more here than meets the eye. In fact, I don’t even know where to begin to describe The Dictator … not that that’s a bad thing, I just don’t know how to properly put into words how this movie will make a lot of people feel. I guess “uncomfortable” would probably be the best word, and that’s not exactly a bad thing either.

Cohen perfected the art of pushing buttons with his Ali G series on HBO, followed by his “unscripted” features, Borat and Brüno. Now, with his first real foray into scripted fare (meaning his own project, as he has appeared in many other scripted films), Cohen still manages to push all kinds of buttons through his fictional dictator. Like the best satire, a lot of what Cohen and director Larry Charles put on screen is hilarious but can make your skin crawl at the same time (and they pack a lot into the film’s 83 minutes). My most uncomfortable moment came when Aladeen was playing a Wii game featuring various terrorist attacks, and he selected the 1972 Munich Olympics. Yikes! Even forty years later, that’s still a shocking subject to make light of, but they go for it with abandon. Of course, politics is skewered as well as gender issues (Aladeen has many problems with females and their positions within a free and open society), but amidst all of the topical humor, there is still the budding love story between Aladeen and Zoey (Anna Faris), the owner of an organic grocery store who starts to break down Aladeen’s perceptions of the world outside of his own country.

While the script may, at times, go for the offensive simply to ruffle feathers, it is much more hit than miss (especially when compared to Brüno) and recalls the early, envelope-pushing, nothing is sacred comedies of John Waters. The cast, including support from Ben Kingsley and a host of familiar faces from Saturday Night Live, are all game and I really enjoyed Faris’ performance here much more than I did in her last film. I wonder, though, how general audiences will react to some of the humor. Does it go too far, will it go over their heads, will Aladeen’s final speech about dictatorship vs democracy be seen as un-American or a spot-on, scathing indictment of what our political system has become? Only box office results will tell, but I’m sure the film will be derided by the conservative sector for being liberal propaganda. What you get out of it will depend on how you see the world. Comedy and satire are tricky things, especially when the subject is politics. If you’re easily offended, I would recommend avoiding the movie at all costs, but if you are of an open mind (or a fan of Cohen’s particular brand of humor), then it will be worth giving The Dictator a look.


Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

4 Responses to “The Dictator pushes buttons to make you laugh and feel uncomfortable”

May 15, 2012 at 3:30 PM

. . . . .

As with Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler, I’ve never cared for any of Cohen’s projects. And it’s not because of the so-called offensive elements.

He just does nothing for me.

May 15, 2012 at 3:43 PM

Then you’d enjoy this even more … there’s supposed to be a trailer for the Anchorman sequel attached to the print (which we didn’t get at the press screening)!

May 15, 2012 at 5:42 PM

I can’t wait to see this! I still don’t understand why so many people had a problem with Bruno (no umlaut on my keyboard)…I’ve watched it a dozen times and find it right up there with all of my favorite early Waters films!!!

May 16, 2012 at 12:38 AM

Brüno was amusing, but not as funny as Borat, in my book. This one I found much funnier even as I fidgeted uncomfortably in my seat through most of it.

By the way, try Alt+0252 to get the umlaut. :-)

Powered By OneLink