Grade: B+ (RENT IT)
KING OF OVERKILL, Sacha Baron Cohen (“Hugo,” “Bruno”) delivers the cringe-worthy laughs as a North African autocrat in the shock-comedy “The Dictator.” Cohen has built a comic career on exploiting our most popular and pernicious prejudices: anti-Semitism in 2006’s “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” and homophobia in 2009’s “Bruno.” Understatement has never been in the Cambridge grad’s repertoire. As Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen (sounds like “half-ass Aladdin”), the oppressive leader of the fictional nation Wadiya, Cohen rules his people with an iron fist. He sees women as disposable and orders the execution of his underlings and weapons experts with a simple flip of a switch. Described as “eccentric with unlimited oil wealth,” Aladeen is the comic embodiment of Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, replete with “wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command” and boy is it funny when he falls.
Before that fall from power, however, Aladeen beds Megan Fox in an opulent seraglio before fixing a Polaroid of her to a wall of his past conquests (including Oprah and Arnold Schwarzenegger). Sliding out of the Admiral’s satin sheets after collecting her pay, Fox grumbles: “Katy Perry got a diamond bracelet.” There’s some irony in the casting: Ben Kingsley, who played the Prince of Peace Mahatma Gandhi back in 1982, plays the Dictator’s Uncle Tamir; he shepherds Aladeen to the United Nations where, in a spoof of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s antics before the General Assembly, the leader’s body double drinks his own urine and makes a mockery of international diplomacy. Once his double supplants him, leaving the real Admiral lost and anonymous in New York, “The Dictator” borrows from such fish-out-of-water classics as “Being There” and “Coming to America.”
The always outsized Cohen is cushioned by Anna Faris, an anti-Aladeen activist with unshaven armpits and described as a “lesbian Hobbit.” He’s directed by Larry Charles (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), also his collaborator on “Borat” and “Bruno.” Charles and Cohen make a devious duo. It’s taken ten years to make September 11th jokes. Too soon? Apparently not. One of the funniest bits – and indeed “The Dictator” feels like an extended bit, an “SNL” skit that goes on a bit too long – involves two tourists, trapped in a helicopter tour of New York, terrified to hear Aladeen and friend pointing at the Manhattan skyline while making kablooey sounds. Proudly politically incorrect, “The Dictator” not only makes a laughing stock of Islamic theocracies but the West’s sense of moral superiority.
“Fascist?” he asks, aghast. “You say it like it’s a bad thing!”