Despotic daftness hits the screen
Review rating ***
If one of the best ways to defeat injustice and oppression is to make jokes about them, then Sacha Baron Cohen has been a significant presence fighting on the side of Goodness and Virtue for some years.
Of course, the British comedian, famous for Borat and Bruno, would most likely have none of that, preferring instead to make some rude comment, or speak of unfamiliar subjects such as George Clooney’s sexual habits.
For, whatever you think about the man and his material, he loves to make an impact, and The Dictator, will, I suspect, not be a film favoured in Zimbabwe, North Korea, or Turkmenistan.
The Dictator tells the story of Admiral General Aladeen, (Cohen), mad dictator of a fictional African state. He has all the trappings of political lunacy – busty female bodyguard, gold Hummers, pointy missiles and so forth. For all that, he is a lonely man, although paying for sex with beautiful women offers some comfort.
It is only when the UN becomes annoyed by his attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, and his talk of regime-change, that he starts seeing some sense – but not in the way we know it.
He travels to New York, frightens tourists on a helicopter tour by mentioning the Statue of Liberty and “Boom!” in the same sentence, and avoids a hit man employed by his secret rival back home, Tamir (Ben Kingsley).
With trademark beard shaved off, no-one recognises him and he takes work in a health food store, where he fancies the manager Zoey (Anna Farris) and brings a whole other meaning to the phrase customer service.
However, the storyline is not really the point here. Instead, it is the comments, entirely inappropriate ideas (for some), and the sense that he’s searching for the ultimate weapon of mass insult.
The Dictator is certainly amusing, especially when he mentions his favourite role models, and outlines all the benefits of dictatorship which turns out to be a long list of all the things currently ‘wrong’ with America.
Some people may be upset by some – well, probably, most – of the content, but then they should know what they’re letting themselves in for by now. Unfortunately The Dictator is all a bit laboured, shouting the underlying narrative which is that only in a democracy (of sorts) can people such as Cohen operate at all, and spoils the fun of what could have been an outrageous exercise in boundary-pushing, rendering it childish and obvious instead.