'Dictator' not as funny as 'Borat'

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

So now we know what a Sacha Baron Cohen movie is like without the danger. His movie The Dictator is like Coming To America with rape jokes.

Not to be too hard on his first completely fictional feature. Despite some flat gags, and attempts to be offensive that are too transparent (The Dictator plays a Munich Olympics first-person shooter game?), The Dictator’s joke-to-laughs ratio is at least higher than the average Saturday Night Live movie.

Like an SNL movie, The Dictator is one gag stretched as far as it can go (in this case not very long, you’ll be home in time for the end of the game). But for every puerile bit (while in America, the Dictator learns to masturbate, a skill he never needed when women were always available), there’s something smartly written, as when Baron Cohen’s character is abducted and hurts the feelings of his would-be torturer (John C. Reilly) by mocking his out-of-date torture instruments with an expert eye.

But it’s a letdown compared to the constant thrill of imminent violence – from real-life rednecks, moneyed bigots and homophobes – who were punk’d in the mockumentaries Borat and Bruno. That added something visceral to the humour that most of us had never seen before.

The result is that The Dictator isn’t as outrageous or screamingly funny as Borat. There are laughter-free stretches. And yet, the character of Admiral General Aladeen of the North African Republic of Wadiya, begins to grow on us.

When we meet Aladeen, he’s happily ordering people to death on a whim, and having sex with dictator-groupie celebrities like Megan Fox (in a cameo). Moreover, he’s got the world on edge over his claim that he’s on the verge of nuclear capability (Geez, who isn’t?).

This claim is undermined by him ordering the death of the country’s only nuclear scientist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) after arguing over whether the missile should be pointy or round-headed.

With that, in a fit of hubris, Aladeen heads to New York, accompanied by his scheming aide Tamir (Ben Kingsley) and a moronic double to address the UN.

A botched assassination later, Aladeen is on the streets of Manhattan, beardless, mingling with mobs that are protesting the dictator’s visit. Taken under wing by Zoey, the manager of a feminist organic grocery (Anna Faris), whom he dismisses as “a lesbian hobbit,” Aladeen uses the store as a headquarters for a plan to take back the podium and derail Tamir’s nefarious plan to turn the country into a democracy (with liberty and justice for oil interests).

He even gets help from the still-alive Nadal, who wants his old job back.

The best fish-out-of-water comedy comes when Aladeen’s sensibilities collide with Zoey’s (he’s intrigued to hear about a “rape centre” and says, educated women “are like monkeys on roller skates. They don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s so adorable!”) Interestingly, though Aladeen seems patterned on Moammar Gadhafi, Baron Cohen takes pains to not mention Islam, and, at one point, Aladeen pointedly denies being an Arab.

This despite the fact that the soundtrack includes songs like Everybody Hurts and Let’s Get It On, sung in what sounds like pidgin Arabic.

I guess Baron Cohen really is tired of living dangerously.

 


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