- The Dictator. Directed by Larry Charles. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris and Ben Kingsley. Rating: 6 (out of 10)
SACHA Baron Cohen is at it again, serving his trademark shock-schlock cinema from a slightly altered recipe.
The man behind such improv characters as Ali G and Borat has surrounded himself with actors (including Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris and some SNL regulars) for his turn as "the last great dictator," Admiral General Aladeen of the North African nation of Wadiya. This is a switch from his usual modus operandi of thrusting his comedy on unsuspecting citizens.
The new formula is welcome news for those of us who watched the conceit so brilliantly (and cringingly) played in Borat and on the Channel 4/HBO Da Ali G Show disintegrate into Bruno half-laughs. Fans, however, may yearn to have Baron Cohen back off the chain and unrestrained by an actual script.
In a script co-written by Baron Cohen, his Adm. Gen. Aladeen travels to the U.S. and is made to thwart a peace signing orchestrated by a Wadiya official (Kingsley) and his halfwit body double. To gain access to the very public constitutional signing, Aladeen infiltrates a low-rent veggie coop run by the very earthy Zoe (Faris).
In the process, the disguised Aladeen (sans beard) manages to whip the co-op into shape, torturing employees who dip into the till, and getting everyone to address him as "Supreme Grocer."
And wouldn't you know it, in time Aladeen falls for Zoe, underarm hair and all. ("You could gas the Kurds with that stench," he purrs.) This despite the general's old penchant for the young boy members of Menudo.
The jokes run the gamut, from socio-political to outright scatological.
There are gags about the movies playing in Wadiya (Aladeen and the Temple of Doom, You've Got Mail Bomb) and relatable jokes about Crocs ("the universal sign of a man who has given up hope").
For the ick factor, there's perhaps cinema's first in utero love scene, as well as some tomfoolery with a decapitated head. "Are you having a boy, or an abortion?" he asks a pregnant woman.
And what's a film without a masturbatory montage, featuring soaring eagles and a young Forrest Gump?
Baron Cohen even smashes the 9/11 taboo, in a scene aboard a helicopter over Manhattan wherein he and his sidekick Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) talk in their native tongue about a new car, a "911 2012". They're talking about a Porsche of course, but one look at Aladeen and his customized back brace/explosives vest and the terrified tourists are hysterical.
The question remains: are jokes about rape and terrorism kosher if they're disguised by a silly beard and promotional antics, which have ranged from Baron Cohen spilling Kim Jong Il's ashes on Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars (the film is dedicated to the late Korean dictator), to Wednesday's stunt of applying suntan oil to a supermodel before arriving to the Cannes premiere astride a camel?
Everyone is fair game, from chemo recipients to Fem Lit majors, and Jews and Palestinians alike.
It's all set to a soundtrack by Erran Baron Cohen, with Michelle J. Nasser singing "9 to 5" in Arabic, and a new spin on REM's "Everybody Hurts.
The joke that perhaps stings the most is Aladeen's comparison of U.S. democracy and Wadiya dictatorship, Baron Cohen at his satirical best. Aladeen means to contrast the two nations when he talks about how in Wadiya "the 99 per cent have all the money," "you can imprison mostly one racial group and no one says anything," and how one man can invade a country, even if it's the wrong country. Define democracy again?