Full disclosure: I laughed out loud many times during The Dictator, knowing full well that I should have been offended instead. But what you see is what you get when it comes to Sacha Baron Cohen, and after movies like Bruno and Borat, you already know whether you'll be able to find humor in film about a horrifyingly ignorant world leader who's as naive, racist, and prejudiced as they come.
I know that sounds hard to swallow, but there is a big difference between The Dictator and Cohen's previous work: this time, it doesn't even feel remotely real. Whereas Borat and Bruno are made to taunt and embarrass what appear to be unsuspecting, everyday people, there's no mistaking The Dictator for what it is: a total farce that comes complete with actors you've seen before. It may sound obvious, but having Cohen's Aladeen interact with the likes of Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, and John C. Reilly makes the whole story easier to digest — and much easier to laugh at in spite of yourself.
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At the core, The Dictator is really a fish-out-of water comedy, just taken to staggeringly inappropriate levels. Aladeen has ruled his North African country, Wadiya, since he was a small child, and in many ways, he's never grown up. While he's busy ordering execution for anyone that rubs him the wrong way (including the engineer that couldn't make his nuclear weapon pointy enough), his uncle Tamir (Kingsley) is the one that's really making the decisions about how the country should be run. Predictably, Tamir turns on Aladeen and seizes power during a trip to NYC, leaving Aladeen lost, penniless, and unrecognizable on the streets of the Big Apple.
The Dictator then turns into a bizarre romantic comedy, as Aladeen befriends a crunchy protester named Chloe (Anna Faris), who he initially mistakes for a boy. Chloe gives Aladeen his first job in her organic whole foods store, which opens a Pandora's box of jokes about the irony of a world leader wearing a hairnet. Meanwhile, Aladeen hatches a plan to bring down his uncle, and somewhere along the way, you start rooting for the same guy that suggests aborting a baby because it's not a boy.
I'm not saying that The Dictator is sophisticated by any means, or even groundbreaking as a comedy. Cohen spares us no expense of crude humor that pushes the envelope (and literally takes us inside a woman's birth canal), and if you're not a fan for Cohen's brand of humor, you'll probably walk out of the theater before you even get there. But if you've ever found his antics to be funny before, chances are you will again — even if you're slightly embarrassed to admit it when the credits roll.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures