Like Borat and Bruno, The Dictator proves Sacha Baron Cohen still enjoys playing a fish out of the water. Although much of the charm of watching Cohen hop around with silly costumes and even weirder accents in order to freak out average members of the American populace is lost in a scripted endeavor, that doesn’t mean some of the social commentary in The Dictator isn’t smart, funny, and a little ridiculous. While The Dictator still makes good on most of the jokes, it simply doesn’t always follow through in terms of plot.
Cohen’s dictator, Aladeen, has been the head of the fictionalized country of Wadiya since the age of seven. Since he first rose to prominence, the man has been prone to as many bouts of self-indulgence as he has been prone to bouts of ignorance. Matching those traits could be a dangerous combination, but in many ways Aladeen is simply sheltered and selfish, with a heart he declares is like a Wadiyan fruit-- “hard and spiky on the outside but soft and really mushy” on the inside.
When the world determines Aladeen has harnessed the power of nuclear weapons, he is transported to America to appear before the UN to defend his country’s military capabilities. In a torture scene featuring an easily offended John C. Reilly, Aladeen loses his signature beard and finds himself lost in New York. In his absence, Aladeen’s number two guy, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), plots to turn Wadiya into a democracy.
Without the capacity to truly understand his environment or fix his situation, Aladeen is scooped up by an Amherst educated feminist who runs an eco-friendly grocery and doesn’t shave her armpits. Her philosophy doesn’t gel well with the dictator, but despite this, he falls for Zooey (Anna Faris), anyway. While Zooey’s environment offers plenty of opportunity to poke fun at a variety of homegrown liberal attitudes, an added romantic plotline stretches the believability of the film quite a bit.
Luckily, not all of Aladeen’s relationships play out as shallowly. The dictator’s reluctant buddy, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), helps Aladeen plot to return to power after realizing he misses oppression a little bit. His intelligence and wry sense of humor make a great foil for the over-the-top dictator, and his ability to show exasperation with Aladeen’s behavior while still playing along makes him one of the more fun characters to watch, as well as one of the more quietly funny. It’s a total change-up from the bold and frequently homicidal character Mantzoukas portrays on The League.
Nadal is just one character who proves he can be funny within constraints. An R-rating gives a film plenty of freedom, but on several occasions The Dictator holds back, opting to not show women’s boobs unnecessarily and to avoid a good portion of a masturbation scene. This isn’t to say there aren’t a few random nude shots or gross-out shots sprinkled into the theatrical version of the film, but it does mean The Dictator is not overwhelmed by them. Which is why it is a little bit of a surprise the "Banned and Unrated" cut of The Dictator doesn’t really go for extremely lewd or lascivious, either. The unrated version available on the Blu-Ray mostly adds in a few scenes to change up the plot. The main indulgence is a scene where Aladeen and one of his “virgin” guards duke it out in Zooey’s grocery. Her bowling ball-sized boobs serve as her main weapon, and audiences get to see more than we ask for.
The Dictator has more of a plot than Cohen’s other films. It doesn’t feel like a bunch of vaguely related montages. In some ways, this is clear progress. It allows for a more uniform vision and for jokes to unfurl more naturally within the plot. Thanks to his own success, Cohen probably can’t make any more films exactly like Borat. Scripted plotlines are where his career will need to go, which is probably why The Dictator feels a bit like a bumpy transition. Clever at parts and far too busy at others, it never quite finds the right plot-to-joke ratio, but it’s certainly a step in a new direction.
There’s never a good place in a review to mention the credits, but stick around for them; the montages offer more laughs than certain parts of the film.
Most of the average featurettes, like a “Making of” segment or a gag reel are missing from the disc. However, for a comedy, there’s more of the laughs fans are looking for. Fifteen deleted or extended scenes are present with the Blu-Ray. They are a pretty big time commitment, but since many of them focus on improv moments that just didn’t quite fit in the film, most of them are pretty funny. Comedian Eugene Mirman even pops up in a restaurant-oriented deleted scene as a waiter who refuses Aladeen service.
A second segment that probably should really be labeled as a deleted scene, is an interview with Aladeen hosted by Larry King. Snippets of the interview actually appear in the extended edition, but you can see how the lengthy interview would not have fit.
A music video for a track written for Aladeen called “Your Money is on the Dresser” features the dictator hopping around in bed with Isla Fischer (Cohen’s wife in real-life). I wish producers had gone a step further and created music videos for all the fake-Arab language covers of hit songs like “Let’s Get in On” and “The Next Episode” present in the film, but the video we get is still kind of amusing.
Overall, there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to The Dictator set, but all of the extra moments with comedic value seem to be present, and the extended edition is funny without being overly long. It’s a good set, but like the film the disc accommodates, the extras are never great.