For those of you avoiding The Dictator because of Sacha Baron Cohen’s previously racy and over-the-top films Borat and Bruno, stop. Cohen’s recent film is nothing like his two previous films, which included highly offensive comments and extreme nudity. In fact, The Dictator actually has a stable plot line and is far from over the top. Cohen’s film is, surprisingly enough, a fairly smart comedy.
With what is nothing short of an expert accent, Northern African dictator General Admiral Aladeen, played by Cohen, sets off to the U.S to answer the United Nation’s complaints. Unlike the casual road-tripping that his previous films featured, The Dictator has a plot. After Aladeen checks in to his hotel, he is kidnapped, has his signature beard shaved off, and manages to escape. No one recognizes him, however. He’s a regular guy who runs to the U.N entrance to protest the arrival of his body double, where he meets Zoey, played by Anna Faris. She takes him back to her store, where he eventually ends up working while plotting to take back his position as dictator.
The plot is surprisingly original and interestingly clever. The jokes don’t arise from Cohen burning up buildings (that’s happened before, right?) or showing nude photos to random strangers – they came from the sharp cutting satire of Middle Eastern current events and I liked it. It’s not offensive so much as it is true. Sure, the plot was predictable, but who cares? Show me a mainstream movie whose plot isn’t predictable. It wasn’t Cohen’s aim to make a stunningly artistic film; I’m pretty sure he was trying to make a funny and satiric film. And I think he did a pretty damn good job.
The Admiral’s inability to realize how rude and straightforward he’s being makes for a perfectly ignorant character that has plenty of room to grow throughout the movie. Cohen and his writing partners create a character that can masterfully blend biased, stereotypical jokes (which we all laugh at because, let’s be real, stereotypes are usually based off truth) with deep-cutting satirical remarks. The jokes are funny for the people who care and understand satire and for those who do not. Nothing makes for more intriguing and funny writing when it can reach both sides of this realm.
Anna Faris, who played a lovely supporting role, breaks out of the typical blonde characters she plays and instead trades in the blonde for a brunette with a brain. Predictable, sure, but she’s got the perfect amount of sass and intelligent command of her character that lets her shine as both funny and admirable. It’s not only a perfect match for Cohen’s character, but an interesting one where viewers can see how an American who tries so hard to embrace foreigners deals with the cultural differences, no matter how exaggerated those differences may be in the movie.
And what was up with the Saturday Night Live cast reunion?! Hello, friends of comedy! Fred Armisen, Nasim Pedrad, Horatio Sanz – the list goes on. There’s really no better addition to a movie than Armisen talking in a middle eastern accent. It was a delightful addition to a lovely ensemble.
While The Dictator comes off in the trailer as much to similar to his previous films, Cohen has truly outdone himself this time in the best way possible. The movie is less offensive and more comprehensive of societal traditions in a hilarious way. It’s a film that made me think. It wasn’t the comedy of the year, but it sure was a funny film that offered solid satire.
Ali G Indahouse
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