Sacha Baron Cohen is the most fearless comic at work today. Forget the satirists and the pranksters; what Baron Cohen does with his comic creations is nothing short of Situationist Art. This was never more apparent than when 'Brüno' gatecrashed Milan Fashion Week, or 'Borat' arrived at the White House to officially invite 'Supreme Warlord Premier George Walter Bush' to his movie premiere.
Baron Cohen's latest creation, Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, continues this trend, having made an (albeit prearranged) eye-catching appearance on the Oscar red carpet where he spilled "the ashes of Kim Jong-il" all over cheesy host, Ryan Seacrest.
When it comes to transferring these comedy creations to the big screen, Baron Cohen has enjoyed varying degrees of success. Ali G Indahouse (2002) was something of a turkey, while Borat (2006) turned out to be a modern comedy gem. Brüno (2009), meanwhile, fell somewhere in the middle. In each case, the comedy premise (using larger-than-life characters to expose the prejudices and foibles of others) is sound, but it's been difficult to maintain a consistently high level of satire over the running time of a feature film. So it goes with his latest effort.
The Dictator is the story of an oil-rich North African leader who risks his life "to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed". Not surprisingly, such a policy finds our heavily-bearded leader summoned by the UN to New York, where a series of mishaps (don't ask) result in him requiring the assistance of local hippy gal Zoey (Anna Faris), to overcome his scheming Uncle Tarim (Ben Kingsley).
Eschewing the mockumentary approach of Baron Cohen's previous movies, The Dictator adopts a more traditional comedy narrative but, as with Borat and Brüno, it's not about the plot but the moments. And this is the problem because the gags are of the hit-and-miss variety, thinly stretched over a very brief running time. Matters aren't helped by our familiarity with the gilded excesses and narrow worldview of certain, real-life dictators. Nor by the fact that, as usual, the trailers cherry-pick many of the best situations.
That said, there are some genuinely funny sequences, such as a helicopter ride laced with unintentional 9/11 overtones and a scene with Aladeen's top physicist in which the dictator insists that his nuclear weapons should be pointy. As you would expect, there are also numerous gross-out moments, including a meet-cute between Faris and Baron Cohen involving the womb of a female shopper (again, don't ask). And naturally, there are politically incorrect moments galore, including a Wii Game based on the massacre at the Munich Olympics that only the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, such as Baron Cohen, could get away with. Arguably the film's finest moment involves a Michael Moore-like speech from Aladeen to the UN where he outlines the differences between a dictatorship and a democracy such as the US, and only manages to reveal their similarities. Nice one, Sacha, and Death to the West.