Sacha Baron Cohen works best with no script and very little structure. His best work by far is Borat and Bruno. Both had very little script (although there was an overall story and direction) and relied on “everyday people’s” reactions and perceptions in an almost documentary/prank show format. His characters work best when they are a commentary on people’s views or misconceptions of a minority group or social stereotype.
The Dictator could have been this type of film too. By playing a dictator from a fictional country, he could have showcased current feelings towards Middle Eastern countries, their leaders, representative and in some cases, extreme views. It would have worked much better as a character playing off dignitaries or political representatives from other countries. It could have even been a character placed on tv shows, highlighting ignorances or bigotry in the effective way that his Borat and Bruno characters had already done with their movies.
Regardless of how you used Baron Cohen’s dictator, Aladeen, the movie should never have been a straight comedy. The last attempt Baron Cohen had at this was the poor Ali G movie. It becomes too childish and silly and then, unfortunately, preachy and soppy. At times the comedy relies on common, silly, more crude humour, which is a shame because he has shown that he is a much more intelligent writer and movie-maker.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some great comedy moments in the movie. The scenes that establish Aladeen and his leadership are great, with a true play on the common idea of a dictator. The first few “fish-out-of-water” scenes, with Aladeen forced to work in a shop, are also very funny and showcase the talents of Baron Cohen. It’s just a shame that the movie becomes too silly and childish at moments and very bizarre at times too.
It must be very difficult to create believable characters that can fool the general public but maybe Baron Cohen should have just left his own movie-making alone with his movie Bruno (a film that didn’t live up to the quality or success of Borat anyway). At least then he would be leaving a solid reputation which can be the only reason this movie attracted the actors it did.
Although Anna Faris is still finding herself stuck in mediocre comedy hell, Ben Kingsley is surely better than this kind of movie. It must be quite refreshing to make a movie that is slightly silly and lighter in tone but it also feels embarrassing watching Kingsley in scenes that are so puerile and immature. He is definitely better than this type of film.
I really had high hopes for the movie but without the mockumentary style, Baron Cohen characters don’t work. Ali G felt immature and silly and The Dictator feels the same as well. Maybe Baron Cohen needs to focus on starring in other people’s movies and only make films where he can “hide in plain sight” rather than play the more juvenile characters.
Overall, The Dictator is a huge step away from the quality of Borat and Bruno. Its silly, juvenile and relies on more gross-out, immature jokes that you’d associate with Anna Faris in Scary Movie rather than Sacha Baron Cohen. If he’d tried to create this character for a more mockumentary style movie, like his two more successful films, it would have been much funnier and cleverer.
Rating – 2.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)