People have always been trying to make other people laugh. It’s one of the most indigenous and powerful forms of human expression. A good joke can leave a lasting impression (which, as we will see in the course of this review, may not be an entirely wholesome one), and comedy is a mode of entertainment far more easily embraced by most people than any other art form. So it comes as an interesting paradox that a great deal of comedy tends to come at the expense of some specific group of people. Of course, not all comedy need be this way – but luckily, our good friend Sasha Baron Cohen seems not to have realized this yet, and so has given us the privilege of releasing an absurdly enjoyable and outrageous comedy by the name of The Dictator.
Baron Cohen (star, producer, and writer) plays the title role of Hafez Aladeen, supreme ruler of the fictional North African republic of Wadiya – a man whose army consists solely of attractive women, whose Wii system allows him to slaughter Hassidic Jews for hours on end, and who sports a very Castro-esc beard by which he asserts his identity. The plot is too complex and irrelevant to describe in perfect detail here – although I can assure you, it is not by any means sloppy or poor. Basically, Aladeen is hijacked from his throne – his beard shorn off – and is replaced by a double, who is being used by Aladeen’s uncle Tamir (played by Ben Kingsley) to sign a document which would democratize Wadiya and thus open up its oil fields for business. The rest of the film finds Aladeen struggling to sabotage the signing, while at the same time managing to decapitate a corpse, become suspected of terrorism, and fall in love with a cute yet hairy young shopkeeper named Zoey (played by Anna Farris).
For those of you who know nothing of Sasha Baron Cohen’s work, and who value your innocently accepting view of the world as well as your political correctness, I’ve advise you to steer clear of this film. But if you are like me – meaning you understand that there is hate out there and that this man continually does everything in his power to mock/celebrate that fact – then you’re in for a real treat. The Dictator is, admittedly, not flawless; sometimes its sense of humor simply isn’t funny, but this is mostly limited to its jokes which are merely built around the use of bad language. But otherwise, it offers an wonderful array of uncomfortably racist, sexist, stereotypical and United States-based gags, oftentimes to immensely clever effect.
The film features an endless number of (un)repeatable jokes: when in the end Aladeen learns that his wife is pregnant, he asks her if she knows what it’s going to be – “a boy… or an abortion”? It also offers some brilliant critiques of American society – in the climactic scene when Aladeen has crashed the signing, he gives a monologue to the room of reporters that glorifies the benefits of a dictatorship – and inadvertently describes the exact state of political affairs existing within the United States today.
While The Dictator may not be in line with every moviegoer’s taste, I stand by it, and suggest wholeheartedly that anyone who doesn’t mind a little cringing every now and then to give it a shot; it may not always be easy to watch, but it stays with you, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a sign of real quality.