Sacha Baron Cohen can wholly become a character like few other actors working today. As we saw in Borat and Brüno, he seemingly transforms beyond recognition into whatever heavily accented, exaggeratedly foreign, brazenly funny character he is embodying. While The Dictator is more of a traditional, narrative film that his two previous mockumentaries, Cohen still manages to fully become his character and give us some crude, sharp and satirical jokes.
For this film, Cohen transforms into Admiral General Aladeen, the merciless leader of Wadiya, a North African nation. Aladeen is a ruthless, egomaniacal ruler who oppresses his people and has anyone who crosses him executed on a whim. He’s seemingly unaware that he’s in the midst of a power struggle with his premier Tamir (Ben Kingsley) who is trying to assassinate him to take his rightful position at the top. The plan is to kill him during his speech before the UN Security Council, where he will address his country’s development of WMDs. Fake security is hired (John C. Reilly) and Aladeen ends up kidnapped, beardless and roaming the streets of New York. After a being mistaken for a protestor when he tries to return to the UN headquarters, he is taken in by Zoey (Anna Farris) and offered a job at her super-hippy health food store. She’s impressed when he uses his dictator tendencies to get the store running more efficiently and they start to fall for each other.
Meanwhile, he discovers “Little Wadiya” a section of New York that now houses all the people he thought he had executed. His former nuclear scientist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) decides to help him take back power and get rid of the dim witted body double (also Cohen) that Tamir used in his place.
Cohen is, as always, perfect in this character. There are several scenes were he goes wild with the accent and it makes you long to see the outtakes of his improvisations. Mantzoukas brings a ton of laughs with his criticisms of Aladeen and his plans. Farris does her usual wide-eyed, over-the-top performance, but it can get a little tiresome when everyone else is so damn good.
The film feels like a combination of Team America and The Devil’s Double and really captures the tensions between the United States and, well, everybody. In a clever and rousing speech, Aladeen fires off a list of atrocities that exactly mirror some of the US’ misdeeds over the past few Presidential terms. His changing several words in his country’s language to Aladeen is a running joke and his constant arrogance brings a really funny spin to the endless series of dictators we see on CNN. Don’t worry, it doesn’t get too snarky and satirical, there are some poop jokes too.
The only downside to the film is that, if you’ve seen the trailers and Cohen’s hilarious in-character interviews on The Daily Show and others, you’ve basically seen the movie. It’s unfortunate that some of the best jokes are given away so easily. Still, it’s definitely worth the price of admission to see this character genius work his magic.