The Dictator introduces moviegoers to the latest outlandish character from Sacha Baron Cohen: Admiral General Aladeen, a despot from the fictional North African nation of Wadiya who takes refuge in New York City after an assassination attempt. (Watch a trailer below.) Following Borat and Bruno, this is Cohen's third attempt to wrings laughs from a foreign character's ignorance of Western culture and societal norms. Is The Dictator, which hits theaters Wednesday, as fresh and despicably delicious as those first two hits?
Cohen's shtick has gotten old: The Dictator settles it, says Rene Rodriguez at The Miami Herald. The fish-out-of-water formula Cohen "created with Borat and then started to milk dry with Bruno has finally run out of juice." In one sense, Cohen deviates from formula this time, creating a conventional narrative film instead of foisting Cohen's characters on unsuspecting real-life victims Candid Camera-style. What a mistake. The payoff falls short "when it's actors reading lines instead of real people revealing their own biases." Plus, the flimsy script is more mean-spirited than funny. "Time to move on, guys."
But Cohen's fans will love it: Though The Dictator "never feels as funny, full-on, or fresh" as Cohen's previous hits, his fans will be more than satisfied, says James Mottram at Total Film. The politically incorrect, nothing-is-sacred punchlines still score — including disarmingly funny jokes on child molestation and rape. Less successful: "Just about every bodily fluid is milked for laughs."
Actually, I predict a lot of people will like Cohen's switch to narrative storytelling: The Dictator is "bitingly funny," says Eric Kohn at Indie Wire. The narrative structure gives Cohen's film a polish his previous movies lacked, and is much more than "an endless barrage of 'gotcha!' moments." That allows Cohen to employ deranged, absurd bits that couldn't have existed in his earlier movies. And in the end, The Dictator's blending of slapstick and social commentary is as "hilariously provocative" as ever.
"The Dictator is a bitingly funny, clear-eyed look at capitalists, dictators, and where they meet"