Early in The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Beloved Oppressor’ General Aladeen is playing Wii inside his palatial (fictional) Northern African compound. But it’s only when we see that the game is a first-person shooter based on the 1972 Munich Olympics (look it up, if you don’t know) that we get the full sense of what’s to come.
Nothing is off limits, and almost everything gets skewered at one point or another– from democracy to 9/11 to, heck, even Crocs. While some of it falls flat, much of it actually works, particularly as a hearty ‘screw you’ to PC lovers everywhere.
The bearded, medal-festooned Aladeen spends his days in his homeland of Wadiya building up his nuclear weapons program, much to the dismay of the rest of the world; it’s only when he’s threatened with coalition airstrikes that he decides it’s time to head to New York to speak to the United Nations.
Upon arrival he’s kidnapped by the leader of his stateside security, played hilariously by John C. Reilly, who leaves him freshly shaven (and unrecognizable), penniless, and friendless.
At the same time, Aladeen’s scheming uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has hired a body double (also played by Cohen) to stand in for the leader in a ploy to get him to sign a new constitution which would open Wadiya up to oil interests and leave Tamir a very wealthy man.
When Aladeen gets wind of the plan, he takes a job at his worst nightmare– a vegan, post-feminist, co-op health food store run by Zoey (Anna Faris). Since the store is catering the constitution-signing, Aladeen sees it as his ticket to foil the plot and regain power.
Well directed by Seinfeld vet Larry Charles (Borat, Bruno) The Dictator begins as a barrage of no-holds-barred jokes (if you’re offended easily, run the other way) but it eventually (and shockingly) morphs into a bit of a love story mixed with sharp satire. Among the highlights are a hilarious, self-deprecating cameo by Megan Fox, a subtitled helicopter tour over Manhattan, and a scene where the disgraced Aladeen stumbles into a bar full of supposedly-executed Wadiyan ex-pats.
Baron Cohen is at his best when he’s working off the cuff, so the fact that The Dictator is largely scripted sometimes works against him, but the material is funny enough to keep things going. Faris is perfect as Aladeen’s boy-ish boss, particularly in one, um, hands-on scene at the store, and the supporting cast, particularly cameos from the likes of Edward Norton, Fred Armisen, and Chris Parnell, add to the guilty pleasure.
The Dictator clearly isn’t for everyone, but those who are looking for an all-out affront on political correctness, revel in the lunacy. Sometimes it’s good to just sit back and laugh, no matter who or what you’re laughing at.