Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest pseudo-political slapstick comedy, The Dictator, is now available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Paramount, with its inflatedly controversial cultural insinuations fully intact and augmented. Also featuring Ben Kingsley and Anna Farris, the film stars Cohen as Aladeen, the tyrannical leader of the fictional African nation of Wadiya, who, though a series of mishaps, finds himself suddenly stripped of power and exiled to the United States. Paramount’s Blu-ray features both the original 83-minute theatrical version of the film, and an extended, presumably more eyebrow-waggling version, which runs about 15 minutes longer.
Following a lifetime of casual and blithe oppression, brutality, and systematic human rights abuses, Aladeen is perplexed to find himself suddenly under fire from the United Nations in response to Wadiya’s recently announced attempts at developing a nuclear program. Journeying to the United States for an official conference to address the UN’s concerns, Aladeen’s dreams of smug and pointless ceremonial showboating are quickly thwarted by mutinous influences within his own ranks. Spearheaded by Aladeen’s political rival and underling Tamir (Kingsley), the rebels orchestrate Aladeen’s kidnapping in order to replace him with a dim-witted, easily manipulated lookalike. Escaping from the clutches of his abductor and would-be assassin, Aladeen finds himself adrift in the vulgar cultural landscape of New York City, with no money, no resources, and no idea how to function as a normal citizen.
Tamir’s ultimate plan is to overthrow Wadiya’s dictatorship and replace it with a democratic constitution, allowing a small number of the country’s high-ranking officials to aggressively depopulate, and then sell, huge swaths of the nation’s oil-rich land to international prospectors. With the help of his condemned former nuclear technician Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) and a sweet but naïve vegan/organic feminist greengrocer (Farris), Aladeen must discover a way to sabotage the impending ratification of Wadiya’s democratic constitution, preserving the nation’s sacred legacy of nepotistic and totalitarian dictatorship for the benefit of generations to come.
The Dictator is basically a fresh variation on Cohen’s standard blend of sociopolitical commentary masked and diluted by lowbrow vulgarity, and like most of his work, the combination is generally engaging and funny. The body humor and slapstick keep the political posturing from feeling too sanctimonious, and the social commentary, likewise, softens out the brain numbing, lowest-common-denominator aspirations of the physical gags, which might otherwise become repetitive and lame quickly.
As usual, the movie’s bigger agenda is a little superficial and self-congratulatory, basically just pointing out that the differences between dictatorship and democracy are subtler than they may initially appear, and that ignorance and personal recklessness can be as destructive as actual, conscious malice. Some parts of the movie’s presentation are probably really culturally insensitive and vaguely racist (Aladeen and Wadiya are obviously intended as broad parodies of various anti-Israeli governments in the Middle East, which might be contentious and problematic for you, if you’re the sort of person who has any strong opinions about that) but it’s not like the movie doesn’t know how provocative it’s being, so I guess it’s hard to criticize it just for intentionally choosing to be offensive.
Paramount’s Blu-ray, as mentioned above, features both a theatrical and extended version of the film, plus a formidable reel of deleted and extended scenes, an in-character interview with Cohen as Aladeen conducted by Larry King, and a very silly, very short music video called “Your Money is On the Dresser.” Political meanderings aside, The Dictator is basically an entertaining and funny movie, and it’s probably at least capable of raising enough ire to generate dialogue, even though its own contributions – beyond the iconoclastic desire to merely be shocking – are disappointingly bland.