Sacha Baron Cohen, the out-of-bounds comedic genius behind Ali G Indahouse (2002), Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), and Brüno (2009) comes at us again in The Dictator and he hasn’t lost his game one bit.
Aladeen embraces everything worth parodying in the construct of a selfish, angry, childish, misogynistic, and highly anti-Semitic dictator who rigs races and elections and sends those under him to their deaths on a whim. He has his country proudly working on the development of nuclear weapons while repudiating the idea of selling Wadiyan oil to outsiders.
When he arrives at the UN Headquarters in New York, he is betrayed by his uncle “Tamir” (Ben Kingsley) who has been leading the resistance against him. Aladeen is captured by outspoken hater/henchman/assassin/torturer “Clayton” (John C. Reilly). With his beard shaved, Aladeen escapes and fits into the crowds outside who are there to speak out against his war crimes.
If there is one thing Cohen is a master at doing, it is crafting his comedy to broad brush-edly offend everyone rather than one single target audience. The Dictator does just that, as it takes subjects like ethnic cleansing and despotic rule and puts them on level with party gags and classic jokes. And in similar fashion, underhanded Western democracy and the war for foreign oil are also tacked up on the dartboard.
The expected appeal of The Dictator is how far Cohen will go in being utterly outrageous. But by those standards, this may be considered a tamer work without the boundary-pressing shock value we got in Borat. We are left with sometimes-middleweight comedy that impresses us more because it is ruthlessly intelligent and shows us that even if it isn’t on league with Borat, it is still very close—and far above Cohen’s other works.
The Dictator makes the cut. It is not only clever, but also extremely funny in its time and place. It reminds us that Cohen doesn’t have to resort to rehashed antics or foolish and scatologically crude ploys to be superbly relevant in his culturally sensitive hilarity, although he chooses to give us all of that anyway.