Before I start, there’s one thing you have to know: I love Sacha Baron Cohen. Yes he’s crude, yes he’s ridiculously offensive, but – as you will discover in the shockingly-short 83 minutes it takes The Dictator to run its course – he’s also a pretty sharp cookie. And I like sharp cookies.
Baron Cohen’s latest foray into cinema marks his first non-mockumentary big-screen effort. Unlike Borat and Brüno, The Dictator has (wait for it…) a script! A cast! Of actors! Playing characters with names other than their own! Baron Cohen is pitch-perfect as Admiral General Aladeen, supreme leader, dictator, and all-around big kahuna of Wadiya – a fictional North African country wedged somewhere between Egypt and Sudan (you know, the “restful” part of the world) – sporting an accent that runs the gamut, at times, from Middle Eastern to Brooklyinsh to Jamaican . Aladeen’s number two, Tamir (an underused Ben Kingsley who looks like a midget next to the Shaq-esque Baron Cohen) is sick of Aladeen’s tyrannical rule, and attempts to overthrow the dictatorship by incapacitating the supreme leader, replacing him with a double, and having said-double sign Wadiya’s newly-created democratic constitution. When Aladeen fails to fully succumb to Tamir’s scheme (instead of being killed, Aladeen is simply stripped of his signature beard and escapes without recognition into the throngs of New York City), the dictator-in-limbo finds an odd soulmate in the form of Anna Faris’ flower child, armpit-hair-sporting Zoey, the owner of a vegan bodega in Brooklyn, who, without knowing Aladeen’s true identity, tries to hammer some good sense into our evil despot with her heart of gold. (Golly I hope you’re as confused as I am.)
Okay, so maybe plot isn’t Baron Cohen’s forte. In fact, he’s about as good with story as Dr. Sheldon Cooper is with women, which is possibly why Borat and Brüno were so successful – when Baron Cohen can concentrate on dialogue and character interaction, he’s golden. And in fact, the most delightful parts of The Dictator are the conversational aspects of the script itself. There are lines and visual gaffes that are HIGH-larious (think baby Admiral General Aladeen being pulled out from his mother’s womb…and coming out with a full beard). And there are moments that will touch you to your Daily Show-loving core (like a superbly insightful speech from Aladeen, in which he implores Americans to believe in the goodness of a dictatorship – replete with “benefits” like a leader with autonomous power to start unnecessary wars and a lack of national healthcare…all qualities that, ahem, sound awfully like our own little “democratic” government here in the good old U.S.A.).
With everything that Baron Cohen brings to the table with The Dictator, it is in fact this speech – a monologue of true, brilliant satire – that sold me. For all the absurdly uncomfortable humor (Aladeen plays a first-person-shooter Wii game where one of the environments is Israel’s locker room at the 1972 Munich games…oy), at its heart – and at the heart of all of Baron Cohen’s work – is poignant social commentary. Social commentary wrapped in ridiculous racism and off-color jokes, but social commentary nonetheless. Its brief length alone deems this a Netflix movie for me (at an average of $20 a person for a movie ticket and popcorn, you’re looking at almost a quarter a minute for a film whose basic visuals offer no incentive to see this on the big screen). And minus the slightly weird casting of Anna Faris (it’s as if she forget she no longer had to do her sorority girl voice from The House Bunny), The Dictator was pure fun, with a nice share of cameos (Megan Fox, J.B. Smoove…even a Polaroid of Oprah), and any ironic soul will enjoy rocking out to the “ethnic” covers of classic American tunes sprinkled throughout (“Everybody Hurts” and “9 to 5” were particular favorites). Oh, SBC…what will you give us next??
To learn more and watch the trailer visit RepublicofWadiya.com