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Mark Peters

 

One of the opening scenes of The Dictator has the leader of the Republic of Wadiya, Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen, resplendent in his military uniform and mighty beard, addressing a crowd of adoring followers outside his luxurious desert palace.

"We are two weeks away from enriching weapons-grade uranium … to be used for peaceful purposes." Half-heartedly muffling a snigger under his breath as his voice breaks into a higher pitch, he continues: "It will be used only for medical research and clean energy … it will, it will … and certainly it will never be used to attack … Oh boy."

The satirical target of the film is quite clearly the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, although it was claimed on its release that it was based on a novel, Zabibah and the King, by Saddam Hussein. Of course, it's all spoofery and Aladeen another near-the-knuckle comic alter-ego created by English comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen, but his creation continues to have discomfiting parallels with real-life developments in the Middle East - not least those in Syria in recent weeks.

After breaking onto television screens in the late 1990s as the bumbling rapper Ali G, Baron Cohen hit creative pay dirt with the film Borat, a mockumentary about a fictitious journalist from Kazakhstan who travels across the United States and interacts with unsuspecting Americans, all the while poking fun at their culture. With his subjects believing the joke to be on the ignorant foreigner, that movie became a controversial comedy classic, but Baron Cohen's subsequent outings were always going to be a harder sell once his secret to satirical success was out of the bag.

In The Dictator, the tyrannically childish Aladeen travels to New York to confront the UN over its resolution to intervene in Wadiya, but is kidnapped on the orders of his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley; Gandhi), who wishes to seize power. Tamir then replaces him with a decoy double, the mentally challenged Efawadh (also played by Baron Cohen), whom he plans to manipulate. Entirely scripted, the film is a break from Baron Cohen's usual formula, but, as ever, the jokes manage to channel appalling bad taste while being utterly hilarious. It's a deft and subversive political satire and another good example of its creator's physical comedy, proving he is far more than the cringeworthy one-trick pony some make him out to be.

The Dictator is due to air on Cinemax at 10pm on Saturday.

 

 

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