Who is Sacha Baron Cohen? Ask one of his fans and you’ll probably hear some combination of the words humorist, master improviser and satirist. But all the sexist, boundary-pushing jokes aside, what is it about his distinct brand of comedy that makes it so damn hilarious? Though it may have a little to do with the unadulterated, attention-grabbing crudeness of the material, the reason it’s so addictively entertaining is that Baron Cohen always finds a way to make unaware innocent bystanders part of the equation. The mockumentary setup takes some of the attention away from his ridiculously offensive character portrayals by highlighting something equally interesting: his victims’ reactions.
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In all of his comedic productions to date, Baron Cohen has stuck with the interview format, allowing him to take advantage of his formidable improvisation skills by giving him an opportunity to play off of unscripted interactions with oblivious people. That being said, it was a little disappointing to learn that “The Dictator,” Baron Cohen’s latest obscene character-driven comedy, was going to be a completely linear, scripted affair, lacking any real-world interaction.
And while the film turned out to be funnier than expected, it lacked that element of randomness in its style of humor that made “Borat” arguably the funniest film of the decade.
The expectedly flimsy and illogical plot of “The Dictator” revolves around Admiral General Hafez Aladeen (Baron Cohen), leader of the fictional Republic of Wadiya, on his journey to address the United Nations about Wadiya’s supposedly increasing nuclear capabilities. As is the case with any Baron Cohen character, Aladeen is childishly bigoted and fantastically stretched to fit every conceivable stereotype. On his trip to America, an interesting turn of events leads to Aladeen’s eventual abduction and the subsequent disfigurement of his legendary beard.
Without the beard, the once all-powerful dictator becomes nothing more than a peasant, aimlessly wandering the streets as he tries to reclaim his throne. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a storyline nonetheless. And in an attempt to stick to that storyline, “The Dictator” becomes a forgettable movie.
Sure, there are a few memorable laughs toward the beginning, but the lack of originality becomes painfully apparent as the film devolves into repetitive, boring absurdity. Ultimately, the final 15 or so minutes of the already short film feel rushed and out of place. That’s not to say that “The Dictator” is a completely unentertaining waste of money.
The movie has its brilliant moments, namely an opening sequence featuring protagonist Admiral General Aladeen’s warped version of the English language. But the writers try to ride it for the entire duration of the 84-minute-long film, in effect beating the joke to death. Other notable instances of cringe-worthy humor pop up as Aladeen takes a helicopter ride dressed as a flamboyantly pro-American tourist and invades a funeral in order to steal a beard off of a corpse.
Yet for the most part, “The Dictator” feels too much like the writers are simply trying to get the movie wrapped up and out of the way. Sadly, after the first half of the film, the audience will likely start to feel the same way.