June Issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 12 years ago

Last year, master comic Sacha Baron Cohen, also known as the fictional Borat, Bruno and, of course, Ali G, had the supporting role of a station inspector in Martin Scorsese’s celebration of cinema Hugo, a tender masterpiece seen through the eyes of an orphan boy. This year, well, this year Cohen stars as Admiral General Aladeen, Supreme Leader of the Nation of Wadiya, in a new film, The Dictator.

The first trailer, that released a couple of months ago and immediately went viral, was indeed very funny. The Dictator seemed like a sure-shot winner all the way. However, the subsequent promotions, with Cohen appearing as Aladeen at various talkshows and events, just weren’t funny. It felt like Cohen was trying too hard to make us laugh.

Sadly, the film speaks a similar tale. While the premise in itself is very funny and there are some truly hilarious moments in the film, the whole affair is underwhelming in its entirety. Some of the funniest moments in the trailer aren’t even in the film — definitely a crime of sorts.

Admiral General Aladeen is a megalomaniac who rules the fictional north African Republic of Wadiya. He is anti-Semitic, swears death to the West and with regard to his people, is clearly delusional. With his rogue state a very close distance away from producing uranium, General Aladeen travels to America to convince the UN that President Obama must not conduct strikes against his nation. For business reasons involving an oil-deal with world-renowned corporates, his brother Tamir (the famous Ben Kingsley) plots to have Aladeen replaced by a body double. The dictator is manipulated into addressing the UN in New York, where the body swap must take place and the fake Aladeen is to sign a document democratising Wadiya and ending his, the real Aladeen’s, reign.

Alone and powerless, Aladeen meets activist and supermarket manager Zoey, who offers him a job. Aladeen, at the behest of Wadiya-expat Nadal, accepts and they both plan to crash fake Aladeen’s fake UN speech to be held in a of couple days.

While Cohen’s antics are by now well-known, thanks to all The Ali G Show characters, they do not live up to expectations this time around. As mentioned before, barring a few very funny moments, The Dictator feels more like an apposition of scenes rather than one coherent screenplay.

It’s not that it’s too offensive; if you’re going to watch a Cohen film, be prepared for some truly outrageous scenes and dialogues anyhow. No, it’s just that after a while, it feels like the Aladeen character is used to justify every single crude joke in the book. Paedophile or rape jokes are never funny in any situation; here they are made to appear legitimate because it’s coming from a dictator. Also, another let-down is Ben Kingsley; usually a masterful actor, here he somehow thinks an Indian accent is appropriate for an Arab character.

Nonetheless, without trying to spoil too much, Aladeen makes a very valid point about American politics and the mere definition of democracy and dictatorship. That is one scene out of a few where the film is equally funny and intelligent; another scene is when Aladeen comes across a New York restaurant run by Wadiyans who have fled his oppression back home.

While there are some good laughs to be had, The Dictator is too tacky at most times to be deemed an out-and-out success. This film will surely divide its audience, as it clearly falls short of becoming another classic film like Cohen’s seminal, fish-out-of-water story Borat, but then again it isn’t entirely bad either.

This movie review was originally published in the June issue. Look out for the latest issue of Newsline at newsstands across Pakistan.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany