Sacha Baron Cohen's 'The Dictator': movie review (+trailer)

Sacha Baron Cohen's film is funny for about half its running time, and the lack of improvisation in the movie is somewhat stifling.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures/AP
In 'The Dictator,' Sacha Baron Cohen (r.) works with fellow actors like Ben Kingsley (l.) as opposed to improvising with the general public.

Having used up, at least for now, the improv characters he developed in “Da Ali G Show," Sacha Baron Cohen in “The Dictator” has created a new one: the full-bearded Adm. Gen. Omar Aladeen, tyrant of the North African nation of Wadiya.
 
He’s the guy, you know, who spilled Kim Jong-il’s “ashes” on Ryan Seacrest at the Academy Awards. (The film is dedicated to the memory of the late Korean dictator.)

On the laughmeter “The Dictator” is closer to “Borat” than to the misfired “Bruno,” which is to say it’s funny for about half of its brisk 83 minutes. This time out Baron Cohen is working with a script and professional actors throughout (including Ben Kingsley as a Wadiyan big shot), and the lack of improvisation is somewhat stifling. He’s at his best and most daring when he’s riffing in unplanned situations.

On the other hand, I can understand why he didn’t want to go into “Borat” mode with “The Dictator.” As it is, he’ll be lucky if he avoids a fatwa.

The bulk of the film involves Aladeen’s visit to New York in preparation for a speech before the United Nations, during which time he is replaced by an idiotic body double (also played by Baron Cohen) and falls in with a far-left activist (Anna Faris). Political correctness is at no time on the menu. In the end Aladeen delivers a speech equating Wadiya’s despotism and America’s “democracy.” It’s like a negative image of the famous humanist speech at the conclusion of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.”
 
If Baron Cohen is going to continue making scripted comedies, he needs to work with directors far less slapdash than Larry Charles (who did “Borat” and “Bruno”). He can be one of the funniest people on the planet, but he needs a real dictator – I mean, director – calling the shots. Grade: B (Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images.)

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