The Dictator: Sacha Baron Cohen Gets Stupid (Again)
It's getting hard to remember how good a movie Borat was. It felt edgy because of the way it pushed at our own inflated American egos. That was a very long time ago. Now, Sacha Baron Cohen (who is still giving excellent, meticulous performances—see Hugo and Sweeney Todd) has reteamed with Borat director Larry Charles for The Dictator, and it's very nearly the opposite of their past effort: It's dull and obvious and dumb.
Ostensibly based on a novel written by Saddam Hussein, The Dictator tells the story of Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen (Cohen), the dictator of a Middle Eastern nation called Wadiya. After an assassination attempt, Aladeen must go into hiding as a worker at a Brooklyn natural foods co-op run by a lefty activist (Anna Faris). Hilarity is supposed to ensue.
Except it doesn't. The world could use a modern-day Duck Soup about the Middle East and Arab Spring, but the humor in The Dictator unimaginatively focuses on the foreignness of Middle Eastern culture. Their words have lots of syllables and throat-clearing noises! Their dictators are brutal and live in gaudy palaces! This would be somewhat acceptable if The Dictator was interested in pushing any envelopes, but Islam, for example, is demurely never mentioned. It's all bodily fluid jokes, "amped" to the next "level" (you know what'd be edgy? If we shot the birth scene from inside the vagina!) and slapped into the standard Will Ferrell comedy framework of an idiot at the top of his game laid low and then forced to learn humility before ascending again. A few punch lines land on a laugh, of course, but the necessary moral compass is missing. Here's a good rule of thumb: Your jokes about how Middle Eastern countries mistreat and subjugate women don't have the same zing to them if a huge percentage of your movie's 83-minute run time is made up of fratty gags about how gross female body hair is. What a disappointing, lazy movie.