The Dictator
dir Larry Charles
scr Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
prd Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Scott Rudin
with Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas, Adeel Akhtar, Bobby Lee, Kevin Corrigan, Mitchell Green, Jenny L Saldana, John C Reilly, Fred Armisen, Aasif Mandvi
release UK/US 16.May.12
12/UK Paramount 1h23
The Dictator
Photo op: Cohen and Megan Fox

faris kingsley reilly
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Dictator This may look like a wildly irreverent satire about a North African despot, but it doesn't take long to realise that the filmmakers' target is somewhere else. And the biting script never pulls its punches, leaping us laughing at the audacity while making a serious point.

Aladeen (Baron Cohen) is the pampered dictator of Wadiya, who travels to New York to tell the UN to stop nosing around his nuclear "energy" plants. But his Uncle Tamir (Kingsley) is plotting to kill him and replace him with a double who will sign a democratic constitution essentially selling the country to oil companies. Aladeen manages to escape, but no one recognises him cleanly shaven, so he teams up with health-food activist Zoey (Faris) and a countryman (Mantzoukas) to get his country back.

Baron Cohen and director Charles abandon the mock-doc style of Borat and Bruno for a straightforward comedy, although they still refuse to tone things down. The on-the-bone satire takes aim at terrorism and oppression, as well as gender roles, torture and race, so our laughter is nervous from start to finish, as the punchlines feel deeply inappropriate. Although the fact that the script dares to say these things makes the film startlingly important.

Poking fun at sacred cows is urgently needed at a time when most Hollywood comedies are so bland that they barely raise a polite smile. The sequences involving cleverly re-created newscasts are hilarious in ways that the gross-out slapstick isn't. And Baron Cohen manages to bring an intriguing pathos to Aladeen that catches us off guard. He may be a brutal tyrant, but he has the soul of a little boy.

Even without the documentary format, Charles keeps the action grounded in reality, shooting on New York streets while packing in witty cameos from Megan Fox to Garry Shandling. But what makes this film worth seeing is the climactic scene, in which Aladeen breaks into a rant that echoes Charlie Chaplin's final speech in his 1940 Hitler spoof The Great Dictator. It's at this moment that the film's real theme comes into focus in a way that will probably offend American viewers, even though it really needed to be said.

cert 15 themes, themes, language, vulgarity, violence 16.May.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall