Genre: Comedy Director: Larry Charles Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas, Fred Melamed, Megan Fox, John C. Reilly, B.J. Novak, J.B. Smoove RunTime: 1 hr 23 mins Rating: M18 (Sexual Humour And Nudity) Released By: UIP Official Website: http://www.republicofwadiya.com/ Opening Day:14 June 2012
Synopsis: The heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.
Be warned, those of you who thought that the world’s sharpest but most politically incorrect comedian was finally shifting his aim away from the United States of A- Sacha Baron Cohen spends less than one-quarter of the time of ‘The Dictator’ in the fictional North African country of Wadiya. For most of it, Cohen’s alter-ego General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen is once again roaming the land of the stars and stripes- specifically the streets of the Big Apple- his skewer specifically aimed this time round at American stereotypes and misconceptions of the Middle East.
Indeed, General Aladeen- and for that matter, Wadiya- is constructed with a fair degree of exaggeration out of these preconceived notions. So Aladeen’s luxurious beard characteristic of Arabs and the object of racial profiling - think Osama bin Laden- is explained away as his mark since birth; while like two other late despots, Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, Aladeen is obsessed with self-aggrandisement, going to the extent of inventing his own Wadiyan Games in order to be the champion 14 years in a row. And perhaps most significantly, like the late Kim Jong-il (which the movie opens by dedicating itself to), Aladeen has been building up his own nuclear weapons programme while keeping United Nations inspectors at bay.
Despite being an obvious riff on the aforementioned dictatorial figures, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the level of wit that Cohen (who co-scripted the movie with Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer) brings to the film’s introduction alone. In particular, a standout moment involves a spot of linguistic confusion between a doctor and a patient who has just been tested for HIV, precipitated by Aladeen’s self-conceit in which he changes the national language for ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ to his very name. Laugh loud but laugh fast is our advice- for the rapid-fire pace at which the gags are delivered means that you may easily miss the next about Aladeen’s sexual conquests or his pettiness about the shape of his nuclear warhead.
Under threat of attack, Aladeen makes an unprecedented journey to New York City to address the United Nations- though the visit is really a ploy by his not-so-loyal adviser Tamir (Ben Kingsley) to usurp his power by assassinating him and replacing him with a body double of even lower intelligence. On his first night, Aladeen is kidnapped by his head of security (an uncredited John C. Reilly) whom he outsmarts by revealing a lot more about methods of torture- not in time however to stop Tamir from placing Efawadh on the podium and declaring a new democratic constitution to be signed, opening the door to commerce and more importantly riches for the former.
Relying heavily on the fish-out-of-water conceit, the real Aladeen is instead left beardless, penniless and faceless on the streets of New York until a run-in with a left-wing protestor Zoey (played by a tomboyish-looking Anna Faris) gives him a chance at a new life. Hilarity ensues as (in his own words) old habits get hard, and get in the way of his assimilation into the nondescript life as a service staff at Zoey’s organic food store. An unexpected romance between Aladeen and Zoey also beckons- despite the latter with hairy armpits and barely breasts being a complete opposite from the women Aladeen’s used to back in Wadiya.
Even more hilarious than their hetero-seen coupling of hands inside the vagina of a pregnant woman about to deliver is Aladeen’s reunion with his former nuclear programme head Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), whom he thought he executed for being disrespectful- with Nadal becoming an surprisingly useful ally in his bid to stop Tamir’s attempt of turning his autocratic nation into a democratic farce. One of the funniest sequences of the movie (that thankfully has much more to offer than what the trailer already reveals) shows the pair travelling with an older American couple in a tourist helicopter over Manhattan, their otherwise undecipherable conversation punctuated by suspicious phrases like 9/11, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and mock explosions.
But aside from taking easy jibes at preconceptions and paranoia (as both of Cohen’s earlier creations ‘Borat’ and ‘Bruno’ have done), Cohen also makes razor-sharp observations of the proud capitalistic nation of America. “Imagine if America was a dictatorship,” Aladeen says, “You could let 1 percent of the people have all the nation’s wealth. You could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes and bailing them out when they gamble and lose. Your media would appear free, but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family …” How different is that from America as it is now? We let you be the judge.
Like his earlier sitcom-to-screen creations ‘Borat’ and ‘Bruno’, Cohen adopts an outside-in perspective and points out the hard truths about America, aimed mostly at its pride at being a bastion of democracy. Of course, as much as it is incisive political satire, Cohen once again addresses the stereotypes held about people of different minorities, religious affiliations and nationalities- so if you’ve been offended before by his brashness and insolence, you’re not likely to find much comfort here. Yes, he may not be improvising here, but Cohen has lost none of the edge working in yet uncharted waters of scripted comedy.
Rightfully, this is Cohen’s show through and through, with his outlandish creation consistently engaging and entertaining. Next to Cohen, even A-list actors like Ben Kingsley know better than to get in the way, leaving him to do his usual shtick. At the helm is his frequent collaborator Larry Charles, who reins in the movie at a tight 83 minutes and keeps the pace brisk and punchy. ‘The Dictator’ won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who appreciate his unapologetically offensive brand of scathing humour, this is one of the funniest comedies you’ll see this year..
(Vulgar, offensive and scathing- ‘The Dictator’ sees Sacha Baron Cohen back at his acerbic best, which is also why this is one of the must-see comedies of the year)