There’s a moment very near the end of The Dictator where it gets political. The point it makes is obvious, and laboured, but also well put and funny – It’s the film’s best moment, and a brief glimmer of the wit that made Sacha Baron Cohen’s career. Unfortunately it’s the only glimmer.
In fairness to Baron Cohen, and his collaborators it’s not that the dictator isn’t funny – there are a lot of amusing moments, it’s just that there isn’t enough of it for a feature film.
Like most of Baron Cohen’s characters, Admiral General Aladeen is a barely sketched out idea, designed to facilitate a joke, and as with Ali G beforehand, while it works when interacting with real people (see the Ryan Seacrest Oscar incident), it doesn’t in a fictional narrative. The stakes are just too low.
In a similar vein, the premise is far too simple, and the story far too thin to cover the sub-90 minute running time in a satisfying fashion. Instead we get increasingly ludicrous and offensive set ups, that have little relation to one another. Again, not a problem when it’s a faux documentary like Borat or Bruno, but a huge issue for a traditional-style comedy.
Even many of the jokes don’t work. In some cases this is because their either laboured – there’s a joke relating to a fake name that has a tiny pay off, and never seems to end – in others it’s the subject matter. When Baron Cohen made racist slurs as Ali G or Borat, it highlighted the bigoted attitudes of the people with whom he was talking. When he does it in The Dictator, he’s just telling racist jokes*. And once more in this review, we’re back to the lack of interaction with real people.
Which, while The Dictator’s most obvious flaw, isn’t its biggest. The film might be funny, and it might have a few clever moments, but it’s a huge waste of an opportunity. The supporting cast are all top notch actors, and the character is an ideal tool for political satire – something that in the past Baron Cohen hasn’t shied away from. Here, however, except for that one moment near the end, he does.
Still, if you want some mindless entertainment you could do worse than The Dictator. It’s just a shame Sacha Baron Cohen probably couldn’t do better.
*It’s equally possible to substitute the word ‘racist’ with ‘sexist’ or ‘homophobic’.