Contact Us

‘The Dictator’ Review

The Dictator
Paramount Pictures

Sacha Baron Cohen and ‘The Dictator‘ pitch a wide tent. He’s got Megan Fox gags for the ‘US Weekly’ crowd and sex acts with decapitated heads for those who think John Waters’ early films are not subversive enough. He maliciously exaggerates Middle Eastern cultural stereotypes for viewers of Fox News, then slips in anti-Western imperialist sentiment for Democracy Now! donors.

This all reaches a dizzying spin when Anna Faris, head of a vegan food co-op in Brooklyn, shouts that the NYPD are fascists, and Cohen’s General Aladeen pipes in with Groucho-esque timing, “yeah, and not the GOOD kind!”

This is one of my favorite jokes in the film because it is indicative of ‘The Dictator’s’ all-over-the-place political point of view. It wants to have its labneh and eat it too and, by and large, it succeeds – but from a comedy perspective only. As an 83-minute collection of gags it is quite remarkable. As a “movie” with actual plot and character, it makes ‘MacGruber’ look like ‘The King’s Speech.’

In ‘The Dictator’ Sacha Baron Cohen plays John Turturro playing a Middle Eastern monarch. From the first frame he is not just racist and sexist (while those are some specialties) he is an abusive tyrant that would make Caligula blush. For reasons that, frankly, I don’t even remember, he has to go to the UN to deliver a speech. While in New York he is set up by his own Chief of Staff (Ben Kingsley, in the world’s greatest Hamid Karzai costume) and kidnapped by his U.S. security envoy played by John C. Reilly.

In one of a number of inappropriate set-pieces, Cohen and Reilly bicker over state-of-the-art torture practices. Cohen escapes, but without his trademark beard and finds himself taken in by ultra left-wing Anna Faris. In time, she will teach the evil “Butcher of Wadiya” the true meaning of love, but not before Cohen spends most of the movie scheming to get back to his guarded hotel suites. (Kingsley’s character has replaced the Supreme Leader with a double, echoing Shakespeare or Kurosawa ‘Kagemusha’ or several episodes of ‘Three’s Company.’)

The bulk of the film is fish-out-of-water set pieces pressing modern New York against a despicable man who holds the rest of humanity beneath contempt. The plot is paper thin, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s natural screen presence – really, he’s the closest thing we have to a Peter Sellers right now – somehow takes these revolting moments and turns them into good-natured laughs.

The best scenes, however, don’t involve any shocking pranks. I laughed the hardest when Cohen and his exiled Chief of Weapons Development (now Apple Genius) Nadal stood on their marks and yelled at one another. For all the envelope-pushing, R-rated antics and difficult New York City location photography, the best stuff is the clever writing and sharp performances from Cohen and ‘The League’ star Jason Manztoukas. Make of that what you will. (And extra baklava goes to Manztoukas for being able to parry with, even upstage, a comedy giant like Cohen.)

‘The Dictator’ is certainly something that audiences who demand even a whiff of a believable plot should avoid. Same goes for those who think there are “just some things you shouldn’t joke about.” My guess is that the small percentage of people who’ll get the reference to the Achille Lauro will either not laugh or, in my case, feel horrible if they do.Rating Meter 6

‘The Dictator’ hits theaters on May 16th.

Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.

Best of the Web

More From Around the Web

Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your points and personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account with your Facebook account, just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing profile and VIP program points. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to using your Facebook account.

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

Register on ScreenCrush quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!

Not a Member? Sign Up Here

Please solve this simple math problem to prove that you are a real person.

Register on ScreenCrush quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!