You know that “The Dictator” is going to be shocking, because it’s centered around a character created by Sacha Baron Cohen, the guy who gave us the Kazakh boor Borat and the German fashionista Bruno.
But what you don’t know about “The Dictator” is how it shocks — not through Baron Cohen’s scathingly raunchy humor, but through his message.
Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, not-so-benevolent dictator of the north African nation of Wadiya. Thanks to his nation’s oil riches, Aladeen lives in a swank mansion, drives a fleet of gold-plated Humvees, and gets to send anyone he wants off for execution. He’s also not too bright, as evidenced when he argues with his country’s top nuclear scientist, Natal (Jason Mantzoukas), because he thinks the missile his nation is developing should be pointy.
On a trip to the United Nations, Aladeen is betrayed by his top general (Ben Kingsley) and dumped into the hands of an American torturer (John C. Reilly). Aladeen escapes, minus his trademark beard, and ends up befriended by a leftie activist, Zoey (Anna Faris), who runs an organic co-op grocery in Brooklyn. Aladeen plots with the now-exiled Natal to regain his command but is surprised to find himself falling for the idealistic, free-spirited and unshaven Zoey.
Director Larry Charles, who collaborated with Baron Cohen on “Borat” and “Bruno,” gives his star free rein while constructing around him a surprisingly formulaic comic scenario — think “Coming to America” with more offensive, but often gut-bustingly funny jokes. (You know what you’re getting into in the opening frame, a title card that dedicates the film “in loving memory to Kim Jong-Il.”)
The jokes themselves aren’t particularly shocking, because “Borat” and “Bruno” have conditioned audiences to expect that sort of thing from Baron Cohen. What’s shocking is the movie’s finale, in which Baron Cohen — as usual, fully committed to his character — delivers a diatribe that’s a satirical version of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech in “The Great Dictator.” And what a speech: A pointed critique of American corporate greed, fear-mongering, racism, media monopolies and income inequality. The fact that a major American entertainment conglomerate (Viacom, parent company of Paramount) paid Baron Cohen to do it makes the irony that much richer.
Sacha Baron Cohen gets some harsh laughs, and a satirical dig at American politics, in this comedy.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images.
Running time • 84 mins.