Movie Review: ‘The Dictator’ puts Sacha Baron Cohen in cruise control

By Will Ashton |
The Dictator | Directed by Larry Charles | Rated R

Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy always seems to work best the less scripted he is. The more room for error he has, the better it seems for him to come up with material to push his situations further.

And it also seems that, the more he is able to interact with real, normal, non-acting people, the better. The more he is able to catch random people off-guard, the more he is able to bring in the laughs.

So looking at Cohen’s newest comedy, The Dictator, and seeing that everything, or nearly everything, is scripted and involves actors and enclosed situations, a sweat of fear can trickle down your face.

If you look at Cohen’s filmography pre-Borat, you will find a film called Ali G Indahouse, based on his character Ali G from Da Ali G Show, which also fostered Borat and Bruno. Unlike Borat and Bruno, Ali G Indahouse was fully scripted. The result, in my opinion, was quite poor. Despite some bright moments, Ali G Indahouse didn’t capture the spirit and edge that he was able to achieve later in his film career. The movie, therefore, became boring and oddly unfunny.

So, does The Dictator fall into the same traps as Ali G? Yes. Does it fail to capture the uncomfortable hilarity from his past films? Yes. Is it unfunny? No.

Although the movie doesn’t live up to Borat, or even Bruno, The Dictator is still able to remain amusing — not hilarious — throughout.

The movie is directed by Larry Charles, who also directed Cohen in Borat and Bruno. Charles seems to know best how to pull the most out of Cohen through these situations and keep him on his toes.

Therefore, Cohen’s earnestness, and occasional room for improvisation is what keeps the movie engaging through its quickly tiring material.

These days, shock humor simply can’t due on its own. Neck-deep into the R-rated, raunchy comedy boom that has been about since the successes of The Hangover and Borat, comedy already seems to have pushed moviegoers off enough to where jokes about rape, murder, and other taboo subjects of the past are just not eye-popping anymore.

So seeing Cohen trying to push his shock humor once again in a comedy doesn’t do the trick anymore. Multiple jokes throughout the film will fall flat.

But it’s not Cohen’s delivery of the lines; most other comedians wouldn’t be able to make this movie work with its script. Cohen, though, is not most comedians. Cohen’s dedication to his material and general fearlessness is able to make more moments in this film work than should.

Borat showed the hidden racism and prejudice to foreigners many people have; Bruno did the same thing towards homosexuality. The Dictator, though, doesn’t really have anything to say. It’s just a general summer comedy, but with Cohen’s off-the-cuff brand of humor thrown in.

If Borat is Cohen on full speed and Ali G Indahouse is Cohen dead in the water, then The Dictator is Cohen on cruise control. It all sort of feels rushed together, including a number of poor edited scenes, very obvious continuity errors, and scenes that just don’t know how or where to end the joke. But at the same time, it remains enjoyable and breezy. It’s not a film to rush out to the theater to see, but it probably would be a fine rental later in the year.



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