It was a mild winter day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The year was 2002. I’d agreed to attend Alabama’s game against Mississippi State with my neighbor from New Men’s Dorm. Sure, I was an Auburn fan, but I was transferring from Birmingham-Southern after the semester was over, so I wanted to spend some time with one of the folks who had made my first semester of college so great, even if it meant spending an afternoon in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide defeated the Bulldogs that afternoon, but that isn’t my biggest memory from that day. Nor is it constant reminders of Bama’s 25 national titles or watching "The Million Dollar Band" put in their two cents. My biggest memory from that day has nothing to do with football. It has to do with the skinny foreigner wearing a black pirate shirt and white leather pants interviewing fans a few rows behind me. I remember being struck by how out of place he was. Years later I found out the young man’s name was Brüno and he was actually a character created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Since that day, Cohen has made himself and his characters known the world over. After releasing films featuring his characters Ali G, Borat and Brüno, Cohen returns to the big screen as Admiral General Aladeen, dictator of the Republic of Wadiya. So does The Dictator deserve an audience or should he be put out to pasture like Cohen’s other characters?
Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any of Cohen’s previous “character” movies in their entirety. As such, I can’t say how The Dictator stands up against the likes of Borat and Brüno. I can tell you that I have conflicting emotions about The Dictator. Let’s start with the good. The movie has plenty of laughs and thankfully, not all of them have been featured in promotional materials.
The movie is also intriguing because it’s a mainstream release with underpinnings of satire. I don’t expect many to go to see The Dictator for these reasons, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Cohen wasn’t playing things entirely for laughs. The film points out several of the absurdities found in our world today, all without beating viewers over the head with a “message”.
The Dictator has a lot going for it. It is funny and pretty smart, but The Dictator is not a perfect film. One question is at the heart of my conflict over whether or not The Dictator is worth a watch: Does a comedy have to work as a “whole” or can the individual parts add up to a satisfying experience? For me The Dictator is a series of funny bits revolving around a tyrant loosely connected by a simple story. I’m not arguing that all comedies must have intricate plots, it’s just I feel like Cohen came up with a lot of funny skits involving Admiral General Aladeen and since he no longer has a tv show, he packaged these skits together as an hour and twenty-three minute movie.
In general, I don’t know if I can truly recommend The Dictator. I think readers need to ask themselves this question: Were the trailers funny or stupid? If you think they were funny, check out the movie. If you thought the film looked stupid, wait for the DVD, as there are some good laughs to be enjoyed (especially the helicopter tour) but I don’t know if they will add up to a product you’ll feel was worth your money.
Verdict: If you enjoy absurdist humor you’ll find some nice laughs in The Dictator. If you’re on the fence, take the trailer test outlined above to decide whether or not you want to spend an hour and a half with Admiral General Aladeen.
Stay “Crassy” San Diego: The teaser trailer for Anchorman 2 premiered with The Dictator. Cohen’s humor is anything but “classy”. Be on the lookout for some lowbrow humor and fun camera shots, especially a particularly creative, but disturbing point of view shot.
Straight Outta Wadiya: The Dictator might feature one of the coolest soundtracks of the year. The movie not only does a wonderful job of pairing songs with the action on screen, but it does so by utilizing covers of popular songs in Arabic. Bravo.
Cohen for the Win?: I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a talented individual. Sure, he’s a bit edgy at times, but the guy sure can create some fun characters and put them in hilarious situations. I’m hoping we’ll eventually get to see Cohen take on more serious roles. The diversity of his characters leads me to believe he could win some acting awards if given the right “serious” role. It looks like he’s supposed to play Freddy Mercury in the upcoming biopic, Mercury. We shall see if Cohen has what it takes to win an Oscar...in 2014.