Does anyone else get the feeling that Sacha Baron Cohen is trying too hard in promoting The Dictator? For months Cohen made a rude spectacle of himself in character as Admiral General Aladeen, disrupting the Oscars, talk shows and metro traffic, with the joke getting stale before the movie even opens.
Overexposure is an odd accusation for someone famous for baring his private parts. Yet Cohen and his sexist, racist, anything-ist alter ego is guilty as charged.
The Dictator doesn't live up to the ballyhoo, or the raunchy, sneak attack standards Cohen set with Ali G and Borat. (The less said about Bruno, the better.) The problem is that Cohen is famous now and can't fool anyone anymore, so he relies upon scripted outrageousness. And his too-frequent appearances as Aladeen already tipped off the script.
This is Cohen's shock comedy at its most conventional, directed as usual by Larry Charles although not in the faux documentary style of previous collaborations. Even the smuttiest jokes about rape, torture and genitals have a more polished edge, sliding by without causing much offense. Watching actors portray alarm at Cohen's antics isn't as hilarious as civilians doing it for real.
Aladeen rules the East African nation of Wadiya with an iron hand, while the other likely does something indecent. He's a sporadically inspired blend of Hussein's decadence, Gaddafi's brute force, Bin Laden's beard and the stacked-deck superiority of Kim Jung Il, to whom the film is "lovingly dedicated." Saturday Night Live could squeeze out a series of sketches about the guy; Cohen and Charles dish them all at once, and dirtier.
During a visit to the U.S., Aladeen is kidnapped by a CIA agent (John C. Reilly, not here for long), who cuts off his signature beard, leaving him unrecognizable as a world leader. Aladeen's scheming aide Tamir (Ben Kingsley) replaces Aladeen with a dim-witted look-alike (also Cohen) to deliver a United Nations speech, leading to a rich oil deal with a Chinese diplomat (Bobby Lee).
Aladeen escapes, finding shelter with an organic foods shop owner named Zoey (Anna Faris), who despises the dictator but can't put two and two together. Can the misunderstood tyrant find his inner nice guy through the love of a Western woman, saving his nation in the process? What do you think?
The plot gives Cohen ample opportunity to offend, whether it is Aladeen's favorite Wii game called Munich Olympics, or assisting a natural childbirth from the womb's point of view. Even at barely 80 minutes (sans end credits) the misogyny jokes wear thin, allowing time to realize that Adam Sandler covered the same turf as Zohan, in a bad movie I didn't want to mess with again.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.