Show Your Work – “The Dictator” Review

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.

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3 responses to “Show Your Work – “The Dictator” Review

  1. I agree with everything you say, this is a much more palatable and thus less memorable movie than anything he has made over the past decade, but that said I found a certain charm in this safeness that allowed me to enjoy the movie more than I probably did his others, as stupid as it may be.

    As for Kingsley though, I honestly was surprised that they got as much of him as they did. The man is a serious Shakespearean actor and Sacha gets him to say lines like “Ladies, show him your bosoms”. If I were in his place I don’t know that I’d be bold enough to do that, let alone any more.

  2. I agree with your take for the most part, except I didn’t find it very “laugh out loud funny.” I thought that most of the time it was merely amusing and really lacked many of those big laugh moments. Honestly the part that I laughed the hardest at was the last outtake where he explains the proper fake wiping protocol, that was funny to me. I liked Baron Cohen and his characterization but the movie gets so bogged down in it’s attempt at being plot driven (by a plot that is too simplistic to really drive anything) that it forgets to include laughs for long stretches of time. Many of the intended laugh moments are just too obvious and simple attempts. Baron Cohen absolutely suffers here from his previous successes at shocking an audience, and you’re right the faux documentary thing isn’t going to be able to be his vehicle forever. If he wants to avoid his films becoming bad Adam Sandler territory (This was not yet there, but the it shows hints that it could get there) he is probably going to have to rely on much stronger writing in the future.

    In the end it was just too few laughs to really hold up. This is a rental for sure.

  3. Pingback: Top 20 Posters – 2012 | Shooting the Script

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