Sunday 20 May 2012


(Larry Charles, 2012)

A strong narrative is not really an important factor in the success of Sacha Baron Cohen's first two successful vehicles. Both Borat and Bruno - each directed, like The Dictator, by Larry Charles - Work best when they adopt the device Baron Cohen perfected in his tv work, whereby he provokes outraged and outrageous responses from unsuspecting "normal" people with the behaviour of his comically exaggerated character.
There are other funny scenes and skits, and some good ideas, in each of those films, but their stories are relatively unimportant. The problem with The Dictator, then, is that in abandoning his most successful device, Baron Cohen places himself at the mercy of story to a much greater extent. But he doesn't have a much greater story to tell.
He plays Admiral General Aladeen, Ruler of oil-rich North African state Wadiya, who finds himself alone and anonymously beardless in New York City after his bitter, greedy Uncle (Ben Kingsley) seeks to dispose of him during a trip to address the UN. He is rescued by Zoe (Anna Faris), a passionate Political protestor and the Manager of a Collective Grocery in Brooklyn. Aladeen takes a position there while he plots to return to his old life, ruining his Uncles attempt to bring democracy to Wadiya in the process.
That plot may sound silly, but it plays out in a halting, arrhythmic, poorly edited fashion. None of that prevents The Dictator from being at times wildly funny. Baron Cohen's gift for making the offensive spectacularly, accessibly funny is as sharp as ever here. His character is a racist, sexist boor without any social graces, meaning that he says brilliantly inappropriate things in every situation, spraying insults around in all directions, some of them extremely amusing.
Then there are the broad situations engineered by the script - Aladeen delivering a baby, complete with shots from inside the womb, Aladeen and friend terrifying Americans with their conversations about Bin Laden and fireworks while taking a helicopter trip over Manhattan, Aladeen discovering masturbation ("What sorcery is this?") - which, while often crude, are again generally very funny. As are the scenes which poke fun at comedic conventions - montages Of Aladeen, first adapting to American life, then running the Grocery like a dictatorship - and the few, heavy-handed attempts at satire on show. Even the details are tellingly funny; the soundtrack here is filled with what sounds like Arabic version of classic pop.
For Baron Cohen's greatest strength is his devotion to making an audience laugh. For that he is willing to abandon a coherent narrative, tonal consistency, and any ideological or satirical intent; he simply wants us to laugh. Luckily, he is a very funny man.

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