Compared to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Brüno, The Dictator is a disappointment—for a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, that is. While this undeniably timely film provides plenty of laugh-inducing moments and is, at times, positively hilarious, it lacks the consistent satirical edge of its predecessors.
My main gripe with The Dictator—which, by the way, opens with a dedication to Kim Jong-il—is that director Larry Charles and his cast and crew work off of a script (written by Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer), rather than improvising and interacting with real people in real situations. I realize that the topic of the film doesn’t lend itself well to the latter approach, but Baron Cohen’s talent for witty satire feels somewhat wasted in what amounts to a lightweight and relatively conventional comedy with too many cheap gags.
Furthermore, for all his eccentricities, Admiral General Aladeen never becomes quite as interesting a character as do Borat and Brüno in their respective movie. The problem doesn’t lie with Baron Cohen’s performance—I have no complaints there—but in the way the character has been written. A bit more character development would certainly have been welcome.
Clocking in at merely 83 minutes, the film doesn’t go on for too long. After all, there is a limit to how much politically incorrect and offensive (at least to some people) humor one can tolerate in a movie, but The Dictator never crosses that line. Moreover, I doubt the thin plot could have sustained a longer running time.
Among the highlights of the movie are the laugh-out-loud-funny helicopter scene and the speech Aladeen delivers at the end, the latter of which drips with biting satire. The video game Aladeen plays in one scene should raise a few eyebrows, as should the scene in which Aladeen assists a woman giving birth.
Ben Kingsley and Anna Faris show up in supporting roles. There is almost no chemistry between Aladeen and Zoey, Faris’s character, which makes the love-story aspect of the narrative a tough sell. Kingsley seems to be having a good time, even though he is definitely overqualified for the part of Tamir. Megan Fox, John C. Reilly, and Edward Norton appear in amusing cameos.