Film of the Week: The Dictator

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Four By Two Films, KanZaman Services
Larry Charles (director)
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
Running time

‘You know, if the idea of decapitating someone actually upsets you, then that’s love’ remarks The Dictator’s exasperated assistant, now suspecting his Supreme Leader realises being monstrously evil isn’t really that cool.

This is but one of hundreds of rapid-fire lines and gags in what must be one of the most deliberately offensive comedies in years. Not one sacred institution or creed of person avoids being insulted, corrupted, violated or even just escape having the plain old piss thoroughly taken. And there’s plenty of real piss being splashed around too. 

After the meteoric success of mockumentary Borat came the first stumble in Sacha Baron Cohen’s career when Bruno, one of his many TV personas fumbled in its cinematic form. Whilst it had some memorable gags it left a bitter taste as audiences tired of seeing unsuspecting public figures humiliated in undeservedly demeaning ways. 

Thankfully, The Dictator is a welcome return to form and all the better as a fictional drama rather than a part Jackass part documentary hybrid.

Cohen plays The Dictator of Wadiya, a random non-specific oil rich Middle Eastern regime, busy oppressing its people clamouring for democracy. But machinations are afoot by his closest advisors to have him replaced by a double who will sign a U.N. brokered deal to hold free elections, opening the territory to foreign commercial exploitation.

Also played by Cohen, the peasant look-alike required to be as equally moronic as the real leader is eventually recruited. Thus begins a predictable series of mistaken identity gags as the delegation heads to New York. Once in the Big Apple, the real deal is cast aside, forced to rough it on the streets as his peasant double is groomed to sign the new constitution.

The race is now on for the actual dictator to somehow sneak into the UN, kill his doppelganger and rip up the constitution. He genuinely believes his people prefer being brutally oppressed.

Mistaken for a victim of his own regime he ends up biding his time working in a refugee centre and hippy health food store run by the desperately well meaning Zoe (Anna Faris, a rising comic star in her own right). Taking him under her wing she’s baffled by his endlessly offensive behaviour but develops a soft spot for him all the same. I’m sure you’ll see where this is heading.........

Despite the film’s surface gloss as an endless series of mindless sketches one has to admit a great deal of skill has gone into continuously blending visual and verbal humour with a suspenseful if daft storyline, a love interest subplot and some scathing political commentary on world affairs, particularly those executed (pun intended) by the US of A.

Rubbing in the Yanks poor overseas credentials under former President Bush is a nice uncredited turn from John C Reilly as a US politician who tells him that as far as he’s concerned anyone who lives outside America is an Arab and thus a terrorist. He follows this up by preparing to torture him (hints of Guantanamo Bay and rendition flights) but is undone by the dictator’s mocking of his poor out of date equipment. In Wadiya, the torture apparatus is state of the art.

But it’s clear from the start that by mocking everyone and everything, then in theory no one gets offended. It’s a very fine line in bad taste throughout, occasionally verging into mild hide behind the hands horror.

I did so on several occasions (a funny but borderline 9/11 sketch anyone?) and along with the rest of the audience groaned in audible disbelief at some moments, one in particular involving part of a woman’s anatomy that gets, well, lets just say ‘involved’ with a mobile phone.

Fortunately these occasional groans were vastly outnumbered by laughter and even occasional applause. It may be mildly controversial but its clearly going to be a monster sized hit. If you crossed the political satire of Bill Hicks with the Zucker Brothers, even the Marx Brothers penchant for stupidity and throw in some American Pie style bodily functions, you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for. It’s a very guilty pleasure indeed.