Art & Culture

There's only one problem with Sacha Baron Cohen's new comedy. It's not funny. True, it tries very hard, and is as tasteless as you could ask for (and then some), but it just didn't make me laugh. I managed a couple of slightly surprised chortles, but otherwise, I spent the 83 minutes waiting to be entertained.

I can't say this comes as any great shock. I was underwhelmed by Borat and Bruno, and although he's not doing one of those impersonations designed to fool the unwary, this is still basically the same – saying the unsayable.

Cohen's character in The Dictator is Admiral General Aladeen, the supreme ruler of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. Faced with the threat of Western intervention over his refusal to cooperate with weapons inspectors, he goes to New York to address the UN. However, a conspiracy to unseat him results in his roaming the streets in his kecks, and trying to get to the UN. He meets Zoe (Anna Faris), a feminist vegetarian who thinks he is a political dissident, and she helps him put his life back together. Or something.

Because the plot is not really the point, any more than consistency of character. The whole film is simply designed to produce a series of gags, which are there to shock and amuse us, mostly involving bodily functions, non-PC insults, and jokes about dictators. But gags are not in themselves funny. They need a context. And in a feature film, the context is the people and the situations they are in. The Dictator pays no attention to probability. The punchline is all, and so we have a series of set pieces most of which are frankly embarassingly unfunny and pointless. Even Austin Powers was funnier than this, though the two have a lot in common.

I'm happy to admit that I don't have the right sense of humour for Baron Cohen's comedy. And I'm also impressed by his willingness to make an idiot of himself in film after film. But I no longer have any sense of what he's trying to achieve. The satire is too broad, the jokes too crude, the set ups too clunky. There is nothing coherent, thoughtful or original here – even his speech at the end about why the USA should have a dictatorship (the gag being that they've already done all the things he says they could do) is heavy handed. He's smart man, who is in some ways better served by turning up in other people's films as an actor. He'll be appearing alongside Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables later this year, for example.

For me this sub-Marx Brothers (with extra potty mouth) shctick is wearing very thin. There doesn't seem to be any connection between his obvious intelligence, and what he does with it. So let's give up the satire, and settle for comedy. Or drama. Or anything but this.


By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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