Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest has moments of solid satire but still feels stale
From the naked scrotum-in-the-face wrestling of Borat to the manifold outrages of Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen is not a man overly acquainted with subtlety. His latest, The Dictator, drops the improvisational feel of those earlier films, but doesn’t lower its shock-value in any way. As Admiral General Aladeen, dictator of the fictional Republic of Wadiya, Cohen’s latest creation is perfect comedy fodder: a sexist, racist, fascist pig with a penchant for execution.
The jokes come thick, fast and obvious, with routines about torture implements (the 'Kandahar cock-cruncher' was banned in Saudi Arabia for being 'too safe') and Bin Laden being alive (it was his double the Americans shot dead). Even the more surreal gags – the dictator substitutes ‘Aladeen’ for numerous words in the dictionary, including ‘positive’ and ‘negative’, winds up with a climax you can see coming a mile off (as a patient is told he is ‘HIV Aladeen’ and doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry).
The plot is equally flimsy, echoing Borat and Brüno as Aladeen comes to America to speak to the UN. After being betrayed by his right-hand man Tamir (Ben Kingsley), who wants to install a puppet double and get him to sign a democratic constitution, Aladeen escapes certain death, only to run into Anna Faris’ activist (cue dopey love story that really doesn’t help the film) who he wants to use to help reclaim his rightful place as leader of Wadiya.
Directed by Larry Charles, the man behind Borat and Brüno, the gags pride themselves on going for the jugular, though sometimes it can feel like a barrage of PC-bashing for the sake of it. As a character Aladeen isn’t quite as loveable, or defined, as Cohen’s earlier creations – perhaps because he never got test-driven on TV. Cohen fans will still belly-laugh and there are moments of solid satire, but for the most part The Dictator feels a mite stale.
General release from Wed 16 May.