Sacha Baron Cohen creates more accessible, less daring comedy


Melinda Sue Gordon

Nuclear weapons specialist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) presents Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) with his first nuclear weapon. Cohen has shifted away from the format of his previous films with a more traditional comedy.

Dan Bidikov, Staff Writer

An organism that is removed from its natural environment and lacks the ability to adapt is either eaten or laughed at by members of the new ecosystem.

Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame uses this biological theme as a storytelling device for the third time in his satirical new film The Dictator. Cohen stars as Dictator Aladeen of the fictitious African nation of Waadeya, who goes to the unfamiliar democratic wasteland that is America.

Unlike Cohen’s preceding films, Borat and Brüno, The Dictator is completely scripted and features big-name actors such as Anna Faris and John C. Reilly as opposed to unaware religious fundamentalists and homophobes.

By making a more traditional film, Cohen has lost some of his signature edge, but there was much to be gained by switching to a more standard format, including formulaic, crowd pleasing humor.

The political satire is as frequent as it is watered down, but it works to The Dictator’s advantage: the movie requires little thought, which helps make for a more accessible comedy.

The Dictator is not a movie to be watched in theaters.  Common responses to much of the humor included clapping, aww-ing, and overly audible laughter.  Such behavior should remain within living rooms, where at least subtitles can be overlaid so that viewers do not miss any key dialogues.  That is not to suggest, however, that the conversations in the film are at all necessary to make it an enjoyable experience.

Basic satire and “did you see that?” slapstick create the perfect medium for thoughtless entertainment.

The lack of effort required by the viewer is comforting, although The Dictator reflects hard work on the part of the filmmakers and is much more than a two hour reel of hits to the genitals.

Obscenities are a major component of the humor in The Dictator. Thankfully, there is nothing as outrageous and disgusting as what was seen in Cohen’s previous two films.  By omitting those cringe-worthy moments, The Dictator is more fun for all; especially for those watching with their parents.

The energetic reactions to every other joke speaks well for The Dictator’s ability to resonate with its audience.  It also helps that every character is a popular stereotype.  For instance, Anna Faris’s character, Zoey, is an ignorant, Brooklyn-dwelling hipster who is easy to both laugh at and sympathize with.

No longer reliant on ordinary human stupidity for laughs, the film’s writers were able to entrust comedy to the hands of professionally trained actors who are (hopefully) just pretending to be small minded.

Jason Mantzoukas and J.B. Smoove (of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame) rise to the occasion, laying out the gunpowder for Cohen to ignite on his path to making fun of everyone and everything.

The film’s viral marketing was time well spent for Cohen, and his protagonist effortlessly nails his performance as an autocrat lacking both mercy and brainpower.  While slightly different from his prior roles, Cohen shows through Dictator Aladeen that he is comfortable in the more customary comedic environment of The Dictator.

The Dictator is much more accessible than earlier Cohen outings, and its classic scripted film structure reduces much of the darkness present in Borat and Brüno.  Director Larry Charles (who wrote and directed for several television sitcoms including Seinfeld) thrives in the traditional style.  Sacha Baron Cohen’s brother, Erran Baron Cohen has even prepared a hilarious soundtrack with Arabic lyrics laid over classic songs.

Dropping the gritty, candid-camera style of Borat and Brüno had its benefits, but it also threw The Dictator into the same category as countless other blockbuster comedy hits.  It manages to succeed in this crowded category, with light laughs and grade school-level satire.