Director: Larry Charles
Screenwriters: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
Director of photography: Lawrence Sher
Production designer: Victor Kempster
Costume designer: Jeffrey Kurland
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Megan Fox, John C. Reilly
(16 LVSN, 84 min.)
The Bottom Line.
The film is lavishly made with great CGI images but at its centre sits Sacha Baron Cohen, who loves slapstick jokes about bodily fluids and excrement. It’s hard to decide which is the most annoying: his imbecile comedy, and his fixation on smut? I sat through “The Dictator” because it’s my job, and I know that he has a vast loyal fan-base, and they believe that the nastier he gets, the funnier he gets, but I think the whole thing is disgusting.
Before I get into my review of “The Dictator”, here’s a swift résumé of where Sacha Baron Cohen started and what he has done in the movie business.
He came to fame in the form of the yobbo, Ali G, who scored a hit in 1998 in the UK TV show “The 11 O’clock Show”. By 2005 he was a fully-fledged TV- and media-star. His audience was fascinated by his audacity and some of the world’s most powerful people sat to down to be mocked by Ali G. Donald Trump was a guest, as was Mohamed Al-Fayed, David Beckham and even Newt Gingrich.
His TV success was inevitably followed by “Borat”, a full-feature movie that opened in November 2006 and became a major success. It was followed by “Bruno” (2009), in which he created the gay, hysterical fashion writer.He also appeared in major Hollywood movies, like “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Baber of Fleet Street” (2007), in which he worked with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton and also as a voice artist for the successful animation trilogy “Madagascar”.
Most recently he starred in “Hugo” as the paranoid policeman, and later this year he will play a major role in a new version of the musical “Les Miserables”, working with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.
It’s an impressive résumé that reveals how versatile and talented Sacha Baron Cohen really is, and I know that he has a massive fan-base who loves his crazy, lavatorial comedy, but I really struggled through “The Dictator”. First of all, it rips off two other movies, one of them a great classic.
The most significant of these was the 1940 film made by Charlie Chaplin, called “The Great Dictator”. In that film Chaplin played two people, a humble, Jewish barber and also Adenoid Hynkel (a pun on the name of Adolf Hitler) who is a vicious anti-Semite.
By the film came out, World War 2 was in progress and “The Great Dictator” and the film’s message about genocide and ethnic cleansing was so obvious and urgent that it was a world-wide hit. It eventually became Chaplin’s highest-grossing film.
More recently we saw “The Devil’s Double” (2011). Director Lee Tamahori created a movie about the reign of Saddam Hussein. His son Uday was a debauched, cruel unstable man, and Saddam’s generals came up with an outrageous idea. They found a soldier Latif Yahia, (Dominic Cooper) who closely resembled Uday, and they locked Uday away and forced Latif to impersonate him.
In “The Dictator” Cohen and his director, Larry Charles, it is obvious that they have lifted elements from both the above-mentioned films. In the film, Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, a greedy man with the IQ of a tadpole. He’s the supreme leader of his country but he is also greedy, infantile egotists.
He has a supposedly trusted uncle, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), who is is planning to depose him. Tamir has found a simpleton called Efawadh, who looks and speaks exactly like Aladeen and he intends to places the idiot on the throne so that he, Tamir, can take control of the country.
So, we have two different characters played by only one guy in a lavishly-made oriental palace, and also on the streets of New York. The assumption is that if you double the star-power, you double the fun, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s relentless slapstick jokes about bodily fluids and excrement is not much fun.
It’s hard to decide which is the most annoying: his imbecile comedy, or his fixation on smut? I sat through “The Dictator” because it’s my job, and he has loyal fans who believe that the nastier he gets, the funnier he gets, but I think the whole thing is disgusting.
“indieWIRE”, Eric Kohn
Transitioning back into a scripted dynamic after his quasi-documentary performance excursions with "Bruno" and "Borat," Baron Cohen loses none of his edge, combining slapstick inspiration and social commentary into a hilariously provocative blend.
“Time”, Richard Corliss
Fans of the nasty Baron Cohen may regret his being borderline nice in “The Dictator”. But we should welcome his decision to inhabit a more familiar comedy style--just going denser, wilder, better - and he pulls it off.
“The Hollywood Reporter” Todd McCarthy
Cohen employs a comic range that ricochets between wicked political barbs and the lowest anatomical farce, with often funny - and occasionally hilarious - effect.