I was never a fan of showing my work in math class. I knew how I got the solution, so why’d it matter? Well, The Dictator has me sympathizing with every math teacher who ever told me to show my work. In The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen delivers a somewhat diluted dose of the racy, raunchy humor from his previous films. Forgoing the pseudo-documentary approach of Brüno and Borat, The Dictator is a much more traditional narrative feature… well, it’s as “traditional” as a feature directed by Larry Charles and starring Baron Cohen can be. But without seeing Baron Cohen’s revealing interactions with real people, the end result just isn’t the same.
Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the Gaddafi-like dictator of the fictional North African Republic of Wadiya. When his attempts to develop nuclear weapons are threatened by the United Nations Security Council, Aladeen decides to visit America and address the U.N. But after a botched assassination attempt, Aladeen, beardless and unrecognizable, finds himself stranded in New York City. Enlisting the help of exiled Wadiyan rocket scientist, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), and human rights activist/co-op president, Zoey (Anna Faris), Aladeen attempts re-establish his reign.
The Dictator is a funny film. It’s just not as funny as Borat or Brüno. It seems the key ingredient in Baron Cohen’s outrageous humor is his interaction with real people. That’s where we get some of his best work. Sadly, in this case, that interaction is nowhere to be seen. Yes, Aladeen says and does some outrageous things, but without the unadulterated musings of the unsuspecting average Jane/Joe, the humor lacks the same punch.
This is not necessarily a complaint, just an observation. It’s ridiculous to think that Baron Cohen would be able to continue to interact with the public in the same way he did in Borat and Brüno after the success of those films. He’d have to go to some pretty extreme measures to hide his true identity. Without this interaction, it’s as though Baron Cohen is working with one hand tied behind his back.
Unfortunately, the lack of the mockumentary element also draws more attention to the simplistic story. Granted, not many viewers are going into The Dictator looking for masterful storytelling; you’re looking for laughs. And the film delivers. Baron Cohen and Mantzoukas’ exchanges are the highlights of the film, which should come as no surprise if you’re familiar with Mantzoukas’ work as Rafi on The League. Faris gives a solid performance, though she doesn’t have as much to work with. Zoey is the generic straight-woman, setting up more jokes than she actually gets to make. John C. Reilly makes the most of what little screen time he has. There is a disappointing lack of Ben Kingsley. He seems to be on the sidelines most of the film. I’m not sure if the filmmakers were just unsure of how to include him more, but I would have liked to see him a bit more involved.
If you’re looking for another Borat or Brüno, then you might be in for a disappointment. Without the hapless dupes, The Dictator is a bit watered-down. Borat-lite. Diet Brüno. Still, Baron Cohen and the cast are all great. Though it might not be as outrageous as his previous films, The Dictator is still laugh-out-loud funny.