The Dictator

Unless you've recently had a bag on your head to be specially renditioned, are related to murdered Israeli athletes, don't like lesbian kisses, cock, dildo or pussy jokes, and unless you think that cancer, torture, dwarves, Jews, Arabs, infanticide, paedophilia, prostitution, incest, rape, anti-Semitism, casual racism or misogyny are inappropriate subjects for jokes, then it really is hard to find that much to be offended by in The Dictator.

Except, maybe, the pinko-commie rant towards the end implying that the USA is as 'good' as a dictatorship. Shocking.

One critic branded the film a contemporary Black and White Minstrel Show. This is not true, because the songs are better. But while the star of the show, General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), is by no means an 'every-Arab' type, much of the humor is lazy. In that way, it is a little like the Minstrel Show: a bit lightweight. The Dictatorfeels scrappy, thrown together, meandering sometimes like an overextended sketch and sometimes like cheap Saturday night Italian TV—despite lavish sets, high production values, and Ben Kingsley. It's asinine, crass, pointlessly shocking and bloody cruel; and deliciously funny because of it, for most of the way through. If you 'take a chill pill' (a phrase the General, in a TV interview, claimed to have coined) you will enjoy.

Interviewed on Australian TV, General Aladeen claimed to be working on a 2 trillion dollar project to make the coastline of his country, Wadiya, resemble his face. All that remained to do was find 'an ear-shaped piece of Sudan to invade', to complete the picture. A great line, but unfortunately not in the movie.

Here's another one: "I am going to meet Kim Jong Un, After Kim Jong Il became Kim Jong Dead…", also not in the film. And I suspect the spilling of the recently deceased Korean leader's "ashes" on Ryan Seacrest will be remembered long after the movie itself. A lot of the General's best work, in fact, was in the publicity interviews rather than the movie itself.

In The Dictator itself, his characters are actors in a film populated only by more actors, and the magic is occasionally missing. Cohen told stories of 200 lawsuits brought by the real people featured in Bruno, which might be an explanation (or more spin) but his decision to take General Aladeen into his own make-believe world gives the character a stronger back-story. This is what The Dictator was made for; to spew, into the world of the living, the fully-formed obscenity that is Aladeen.

Sacha Baron Cohen's characters come into their own when they are put into contact with real people—and even chat show hosts are people—because, as Ali G taught us, the embarassing reaction and our own cringing is at least half of the humour, innit.

When it works, it's as good as situationist comedy gets. It is Andy Kaufman with actual jokes. It also stands out from Ricky Gervais and others because his targets are far more weird and innately funny than the ordinary people that British comedy tends to send up. But when it doesn't work, it not only fails to expose prejudice or political correctness, but simply takes advantage of his victims' desire to be polite to the idiot they just met.

Given the safer environment of a fictional film, the 'satire' should have gone further than Aladeen's predictable rant. Still, I will follow the General's career in the real world with interest and savour the irony that will probably get real spooks shadowing him— to protect us from his weapons-grade rudeness.