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The Dictator Review

Director: Larry Charles

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Farris, Ben Kingsley

Running time: 83 minutes

Certificate: 15

Synopsis: When the dictator General Admiral Aladeen (Baron Cohen) heads to the US for a diplomatic meeting, a failed assassination attempt finds him lost and alone in New York. When he realises he’s been replaced by a double, he tries to uncover the plot against him and return to his lovingly oppressed nation…

In the late 1990s, Sacha Baron Cohen made his name humiliating upper class twits, stuffy liberals, and the unsuspecting public. For the most part he did this under the guise of Ali G, and later as Borat, leading the way for others to follow and ‘prank’ civilians (hello Dom Jolly, Tom Green and the Jackass boys). However, with the lukewarm BRUNO, Baron Cohen demonstrated the comedy format – loosely known as ‘winding up idiots’ – had run its course. Now, with THE DICTATOR, the comedian abandons the format entirely, instead opting for a more traditional approach. In fact, THE DICTATOR is so painfully traditional it comes with all the trappings of standard Hollywood fare – predictable characters, lazy plotting, and a startling lack of innovation. When a performer feels inclined to resort to the comedy wig, you know there’s a problem. And just because he’s turned it upside-down and worn it on his chin, it doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed…

That THE DICTATOR is so staggeringly formulaic is not necessarily a problem. Will Ferrel’s been getting away with it for years, just by changing the profession of his character each film. But the films are funny, and that’s the key to their success, not originality. This is where THE DICTATOR is sorely lacking; aside from a few good gags (mostly taking swipes at ultra-liberals), Baron Cohen’s latest effort is seriously unfunny. The jokes are overdone, and anyone with a fair knowledge of comedy will have seen it all before. Even the taboo-smashing gags for which Baron Cohen is best know feel halfhearted: there’s plenty of riffing on 9/11, though it largely feels pointless. The inherent political message has been done before, in more poignant and inspired ways. Though the film’s final moments will reveal an intelligent observation on western democracy, everything that comes before feels cheap and easy.

Unfortunately, we’ve been here before with Baron Cohen, when he abandoned Ali G’s original format for the critical bomb ALI G IN DA HOUSE. It’s not to say that he should stick rigidly to his comedic comfort zone; every performer should push boundaries and reinvent themselves, but THE DICTATOR remains too close to BORAT and BRUNO. It’s essentially the same story – cultural fish out of water finding acceptance in the good ol’ US of A. It’s just far below the standard of his best work, and without the realism of BORAT, merely feels diluted.

THE DICTATOR is an unfortunate misstep in Sacha Baron Cohen’s otherwise impressive output. Next time, we’ll demand more of the old magic or something entirely new. Whilst THE DICTATOR isn’t completely without merit – Anna Farris is watchable as ever, and there are a few sniggers along the way – it remains a disappointment. The red band trailer will genuinely suffice.

 THE DICTATOR is in UK cinemas now

Tom Fordy is a writer and journalist. Originally from Bristol, he now lives in London. He is a former editor of The Hollywood News and Loaded magazine. He also contributes regularly to The Telegraph, Esquire Weekly and numerous others. Follow him @thetomfordy.

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