"The Dictator": More Culture Clash Than Comedy Revolution

This time, Sacha Baron Cohen is in on the joke, but the chair isn’t.
This time, Sacha Baron Cohen is in on the joke, but the chair isn’t.

In The Dictator, Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), dictator of fictional North African nation Wadiya, travels to New York to defend Wadiya's nuclear program to the U.N. Aladeen's brother (Ben Kingsley) attempts to sell him out, hiring a goat-fetishizing look-alike (also Baron Cohen) to serve as Aladeen's double in a plot to exploit Wadiya's oil. The real dictator escapes his scheduled assassination and ends up outside the U.N. in bum garb, leading the gathered protesters in a cry against the "illegitimate" leader addressing the assembly inside and drawing the attention of Zoe (Anna Faris), a crunchy Brooklyn activist who mistakes Aladeen for a dissident and welcomes him into her refugee-staffed Williamsburg food co-op. Previous Baron Cohen characters Ali G and Borat were genius because the comedian immersed himself so totally into the roles while thrusting himself out into the real world and into contact with unsuspecting strangers. The Dictator, by contrast, exists purely in movie world: There's no interaction with "real" people. Baron Cohen reportedly stayed in character between takes, but I'm not convinced he stays in character during takes. The role doesn't seem to amount to much more than an imprecise, inconsistent accent and a played-for-laughs proclivity for rape, in a film dedicated to the rehearsal of culture-clash stereotypes that generally fail to unearth anything new about any of the cultures involved.

 
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