Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas and John C Reilly.
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer.
Director: Larry Charles
It is not enough to lambast this dire effort from Brit shock-comic Sacha Baron Cohen for merely being puerile, amateurish, vulgar and, not for a single frame of its wretched, mercifully-short 83 minutes, the least bit amusing. What is most shocking about this early summer-season entry from Paramount (shaming their history by attaching their centenary logo) is that The Dictator may be what passes for broad-appeal political satire in 2012.
Crafting a comedy that mocks the savage dictatorships of America’s traditional adversaries (in this case, the wealthy fictional North African country of Wadiya) must have seemed like an easy sell to the studio’s brass, who would have envisioned a nation of patriotic movie-goers queuing to see a comedy about just such a despot (Cohen’s idiotic Aladeen) getting taken down a peg by good ol’ USA values. Given the project would also re-unite the team behind 2006 mega-hit Borat and 2009’s not-such-a-hit Brüno – director Larry Charles and writer/star Cohen – handing over creative control was an easy decision to make, that much is certain.
That the end result is one of the worst American comedies of recent memory must have come as a shock, but they have only themselves to blame. The comedy doesn’t work, but that is a notoriously subjective area for movie-goers; some may get a giggle at jokes about child-rape, forced-fisting, gender-specific foeticide (“You’re pregnant? Is it a boy or an abortion?”), amputees, 9-11 and public masturbation, as well as lame jabs at 5 year-old ‘hot-button’ topics like WMD proliferation and, ahem, inner-city vegan co-ops.
What misfires so spectacularly is the overt sentimentality that should bind the gags within some kind of real-world framework, giving the audience the merest of human touches and ensuring we pay attention even when the comedy is sinking. Bless her heart for trying, but Anna Faris is crucified at the altar of Cohen’s crass star-vehicle; her dippy but decent doe-eyed do-gooder, even by silly movie-romance standards, would never fall for such a pig as Aladeen, and her efforts to ‘play along’ with Cohen’s ruse are embarrassing.
Only Jason Mantzoukas as Aladeen’s right-hand man Nadal brings any comic chops to a role; extended cameos by John C Reilly, Megan Fox, Fred Armisen and Chris Parnell are cringe-worthy. Blink-and-miss them walk-ons by the likes of Chris Elliott, Horatio Sanz and Garry Shandling suggest much planned mirth was found wanting and discarded in the edit suite; several grandly-staged scenes were shot but have ended up interspersed amongst the closing credits (suggesting the excision of failed material may account for the scant running time).
Ben Kingsley as bad guy Tamir fronts up for another horrible comedy, apparently having learnt nothing after appearing in that atrocious Mike Myers vehicle, The Love Guru – a film that has much in common with The Dictator. Both are glaringly tacky works purporting to comment on topical issues from comics of limited range and retarded intellectual development who draw their inspiration from toilet-wall humour.
There is a supremely-smart satire to be made from this material, but the only achievement of Cohen’s ‘watch-me-shock-you!’ third-rate buffoonery and Charles’ sitcom-standard lensing is to do what Dubya Bush couldn’t – bring down a murderous ruler ingloriously.