Sacha Baron Cohen reaches new lows with The Dictator, confusing risqué comedy with repulsive humour that overthrows any attempt at making a stir with its political satire.
Cohen’s job – for the most part – is to offend. It’s a non-contractual agreement that if you watch his films he will make you laugh or make you cringe (sometimes both) at his behaviour, whether he be a backwards eastern European (Borat) or an over the top Austrian fashionista (Bruno).
Yet Cohen’s fearlessness is also his downfall. Yes he frames his jokes around taboo subjects, yet he forgets that sometimes an issue is taboo for reason and pushing the matter doesn’t make it funny.
That brings us to The Dictator, Cohen’s latest film. He stars as General Aladeen, the tyrant of the fictional North African nation Wadiya and has just announced that he is in possession of a nuclear bomb.
Outraged, the U.N. demands Aladeen address them personally. But when he reaches America he is betrayed, shaven of his famous beard and forced into exile in Brooklyn where he befriends a feminist vegan grocery owner (Anna Faris). Aladeen must fight his way back to his rightful position to save his country from democracy.
Cohen has a knack for creating out there characters that are a perfect conduit for his brand of confrontational comedy. He also has mastered the act of stretching out a shtick beyond its desired usage. General Adeen is just that type of character. Give him 2 minutes at the Oscars and watch comedy genius at play. Give him 83 minutes and watch a desperate comic pass the time with one unfunny stunt on top of another, with little wit and a whole lot of shock.
Cohen’s joy in pushing boundaries with often unfunny material reminds of U.S. comic Tom Green (remember him?), who’s Freddy Got Fingered is often cited as one of the worst comedies of all time. The Dictator joins that list. Beyond crass, beyond lazy and way beyond offensive, it proves that laughter by means of shocking material does indeed require intelligence and creativity, elements The Dictator is sorely lacking.
The even less said about Cohen’s political commentary the better, consisting of the usual anti-American diatribes that may go over well those who share the same sentiments but will leave most underwhelmed.
There is nothing wrong with making fun of political figures, especially tyrants. It’s been done ever since Charlie Chaplin gave Hitler a good ribbing in The Great Dictator, and Lord knows there are plenty of despots these days who deserve to be made fools of.
There is also nothing wrong with crass behaviour on screen. But once jokes are made about raping 14 year old boys and a masturbation scene becomes your high cue, The Dictator goes beyond immature and into mind bogglingly stupid and perverse territory. Makes sense: this is a Sacha Baron Cohen film, after all.