Comedies get a pretty bad rap, probably because their bar for success is so low. All a successful comedy has to do is make people laugh, by any means necessary. Yet even though this may seem a mean feat, it is by no means easy. Not only that, but comedy can actually do some heavy lifting in terms of story, character, and even commentary on a social and political level. Comedies can help us see inconvenient truths, or come to terms with our own biases. Comedies are underserved, under appreciated, and capable of great things.
So with all of those possibilities, and given the aforementioned low bar, it’s surprising that The Dictator seems to fail on almost every level.
It’s hard to critique a comedy. Humor and fear are two reactions that are hard to qualify academically. I am terrified of heights, but some people climb for fun or jump out of planes. So I suppose it is worth mentioning that some people in the theater laughed at a few of your jokes. I, meanwhile, was left in a state of baffled confusion and slight disappointment.
This is the story of Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of fictional Wadiya. As played by Sacha Baron Cohen, Aladeen is the embodiment of every stereotypical assumption about the Middle East/North Africa. He is sexist, xenophobic, racist, callous and insensitive. Aided by his ego and his riches and his unlimited power, he’s become the most hated and inept and clueless dictator on the planet. That is, until his right-hand-man conspires with a group of international businessmen to replace Aladeen in order to open up Wadiya’s vast oil reserves to international sale.
This is a pretty rote setup, but one that offers a lot of opportunity for both comedy and commentary. Of course none of this goes exploited. Aladeen falls in with the proprietor of a local, organic food co-op (Anna Faris). She’s a fem-lit major, a green activist, and the embodiment of every negative liberal stereotype known to man. Will these two crazy kids ever work out their issues and perhaps make Wadiya a better place?
The answers to these questions aren’t as interesting or comical as you would expect. Everything is so easy, so predictable, that any sense of spontaneity or interest is sapped from the action. The Dictator never bothers to subvert expectation, only play up to it in the most basic and meaningless of ways. The very plot feels like something from the mid nineties, hoping to shock through excess or insult more than wit or intelligence. Nothing is said that hasn’t been said before by a drunk college student… or maybe even a high school student.
Some people may find humor in this, but I can’t. Replacing normal words with gutural, vaguely foreign-sounding syllables is not new, or clever, or even funny. It’s just simple and insulting from a standpoint of laziness. No risks, no challenges, nothing. Stupidity in excess meaning and achieving nothing.
Honestly, there isn’t much to say beyond that. When a movie is too lazy to try anything new or do anything interesting, it is difficult to properly take it to task. Suffice to say that The Dictator is a pointless, toothless film that squanders all of its potential for that low road.
And worst of all, it isn’t funny.