Sacha Baron Cohen may be the funniest man on the planet. In The Dictator, he expands his repertoire, showing he knows how to carry a movie without resorting to his notorious alter egos.
Known best for his films Borat and Bruno, based on the corrosive personalities from his British TV program Da Ali G Show, Cohen breaks new ground in The Dictator. Here, he creates yet another absurd character who then follows a script, albeit one that complements his madcap style.
Cohen eschews his guerrilla filmmaking and relies on the outline provided by a quartet of writers, including himself. Cohen again sagely leaves the directing to free-wheeling Larry Charles, an inspired comic helmsman who has worked with Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher and other loose cannons.
Cohen plays Adm. Gen. Aladeen, the ruler of Wadiya, a fictional oil-rich African country. The general shares much with Borat and Bruno. Aladeen is a clueless fish-out-of-water character, who always says and does whatever is most offensive.
After beginning with a montage that could have come from Woody Allen’s Bananas or Zelig, The Dictator revolves around Gen. Aladeen coming to the U.S. to address the United Nations.
Once here, he unintentionally loses his trademark beard, forcing him to adopt another identity since no one believes he is the Wadiyan general. He becomes Allison Burgers and finds refuge with a dedicated feminist (the always-game Anna Faris) running a health food store, of sorts, in Brooklyn.
From there, the general plots to foil his renegade underling (Ben Kingsley), kill his body double, and take back his country. But of course, the general follows formulaic narrative rules and first falls in love so he can eventually become a cuddly, changed man.
It is doubtful anyone could have squeezed more out of the same script as Cohen does. He somehow magnifies his insults and crass behavior. Yet, while watching him, the viewer never forgets that The Dictator is nothing more than a broad farce in which all words and gestures are exaggerated.
Cohen and Charles use their talent well, slotting in comic pros as needed, such as John C. Reilly as a torture expert, J.B. Smoove and Aasif Mandvi in small roles, and Gary Shandling in a mimed cameo.
Like Borat and Bruno, The Dictator is not for the timid or the easily offended, but it will bring plenty of laughs.
Rated R, 83 minutes.