Guilty pleasure | The Dictator | On Demand
Sacha Baron Cohen’s film is unapologetically inappropriate—and hilarious.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy traffics in canny subversion via juvenile prankster-silliness. His underheralded latest, The Dictator, is—like Borat—a gem of goofball political commentary that upends expectations through sheer ridiculousness. Cohen and director Larry Charles’s film takes aim at Middle Eastern tyranny through the tale of Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen), dictator of the fictional Republic of Wadiya, whose gleeful warmongering, anti-Semitism and misogyny are milked for endless one-liners that have an inappropriateness as riotous as it is unvarnished. Aladeen spouts hatred with a bluntness that makes his repression plain; when he delivers a newborn and, upon learning it’s a girl, instinctively asks, “Where’s the trash can?,” the joke proves all the more amusingly pointed for its brusqueness.
Critiquing megalomaniacs, however, is only part of The Dictator’s game. The farcical story—in which Aladeen is betrayed and stranded in New York working for a health-food nut (Anna Faris) and must reclaim his throne to stop democracy from flourishing back home—complicates audience attitudes by making the anti-West Aladeen a likable hero. Such unpredictability extends to the scripted film’s uneven structure, which captures some of the volatile spontaneity of Cohen’s Borat. Yet ultimately, it’s the actor’s gonzo portrait of authoritarian arrogance that truly enlivens The Dictator, a film hilarious and piercing enough to recognize that for an Israel-hating despot, no crisis could be graver than developing a fondness for Yiddish idioms. (Available on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray Tue 21.)