Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris Director: Larry Charles Category: IIB (English and Arabic)
The Dictator begins with a dedication to the late North Korean despot Kim Jong-il, and ends with the film's titular tyrant asking whether a pregnant woman is having 'a boy or an abortion'. Sacha Baron Cohen - along with frequent collaborator Larry Charles - is back with all guns blazing, cluster-bombing cinemas around the world with his weapons-grade grotesque humour.
It's fine to describe The Dictator as comedic or crass, but a satire this is not. This film rarely comes close to being multilayered or self-reflective: qualities reached in varying degrees by Baron Cohen's past outings as thick suburban rapper Ali G, the bigoted Kazakhstani reporter Borat or the hyper-camp Austrian model Bruno. What's left is a lazily concocted arsenal of off-colour jokes, and the thought of a rogue mind turning rote.
The first sign of Baron Cohen (above, saluting) going soft manifests itself in the character he's created.
It's no surprise he would play his Admiral General Aladeen, the ruler of the fictional oil-rich north African republic of Wadiya, as a caricature of the real-life dictators we've seen on the news, complete with gags which reveal how little stands between him and what he desires, whether it be A-list actresses (a probable nod to reports of Hollywood celebrities getting hefty paycheques to perform for certain Central Asian dictators) or round-headed (and thus completely phallic) missiles.
But Aladeen is more a spoiled brat than an axeman of evil. He is introduced as a scion of an existing dynasty. He seeks cuddles from Hollywood star Megan Fox (gamely playing herself), after sleeping with her, and struggles to contain himself while delivering a speech about his country's use of uranium for eco-living purposes.
After Aladeen finds himself stranded in New York thanks to a double-crossing uncle, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), he struggles to rejoin the political farce of a United Nations meeting he should be attending. Instead, he stumbles into a generic romantic comedy as he begins a transformation which brings him closer to Zoey (Anna Faris), a pro-democracy activist who runs a vegetarian co-op.
It's also here that while audiences previously were induced to reflect on why they laughed at the on-screen antics, Zoey is an object to laugh at, period - from her ultra-puritan worldviews to her hairy armpits.
Indeed, Baron Cohen is aiming at easy targets here, and even the more cerebral moments of the film - such as how United States-backed charades of spreading democracy are cynicism dressed in charity, and sexual excesses as manifestations of power trips - rarely add anything invigorating to our understanding of the world.
The Dictator may only be entertainment - but unfortunately it isn't very good at doing that.
The Dictator opens today