Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris,
Director: Larry Charles
So, after what seems like a lot of press recently, The Dictator finally arrives in New Zealand.
Sacha Baron Cohen's latest creation was always going to be divisive and when a film begins with a freeze frame of Kim Jong Il and the words "In loving memory", you're pretty much going to have a clue what's ahead.
In this latest, Cohen plays General Haffaz Aladeen, a dictator of Wadiya in North Africa. Summoned to the UN in America to face concerns over his nuclear programme, Aladeen finds his world turned upside down when he's abducted, shorn of his beard and cut adrift in America by his cousin Tamir (Kingsley) who's jealous of his power and installs a doppelganger as Aladeen.
When Tamir's plan to turn his beloved Wadiya into a democracy instead of a dictatorship, Aladeen schemes to get back power and ensure his way of life isn't changed.
Scabrous, satirical and scatalogical, The Dictator is a patchy but funny affair, helped by some truly hilarious one liners and some deeply offensive gags.
That's the thing with Sacha Baron Cohen - he's never afraid to push the envelope and I'm grateful for that. Unfortunately this time, it feels like the joke's gone on a little too long and has ceased to be as hilarious as it used to be.
It starts off very well, mixing in verite news footage culled of figures of power warning the Dictator must step down - and even shows Aladeen's birth (complete with the mother being snuffed out by a pillow, as she "dies in childbirth") - it's almost as if Cohen and Charles decide early on to shock and make you question whether you should even be laughing in the first place.
But once it settles in there are some very funny moments, great visual gags and some amusing set pieces. A clever sequence inside a small American plane mocks stereotypes of beliefs and 9/11; news commentators are shown as idiots when they speculate on what Aladeen's saying and doing; and a final speech where Cohen mocks America is frankly intelligently funny fare which is sly and spot on. Granted, there's some satire over UN treatments of dictatorships when it suits at play here, but it's buried among the offensive.
However, let's be clear though - this isn't all sophisticated humour throughout the film; it's one of those no holds barred, everything's up for the offending - there are poo jokes, masturbation and male nudity as you'd come to expect from an offensive Baron Cohen film. And a sequence where a woman's giving birth in a shop is frankly as far as some people's tastes will go (though I'm willing to admit it's actually funny).
Don't get me wrong - I'm no prude and there are parts of this film where I did indeed LOL as when Cohen is on the money, nobody else does it better. Unfortunately, this feels a little predictable and tired in places and while the film benefits from a story line and a decent character, who's forced to grow up, as opposed to sequences where the likes of Borat and Bruno simply try to offend, it's not quite enough to push it over the mark. Plus the fact this is more straight laced and scripted really does make you feel like you're missing the anarchic improvisational touch of Cohen's humour which was prevalent in Bruno and Borat.
If you're after a no-brainer bit of occasionally puerile fun, then The Dictator is for you. Otherwise, you can join the ranks of the apparent infidels who feel The Dictator isn't as good as it promised to be, and while it's content to offer some hearty belly laughs, there's just the feeling that this scripted piece could have been a little more.