Sacha Baron Cohen is in this again. After brilliant comedy Borat and absolutely terrible Bruno, he brings another comedy, where he plays Aladeen – the head of small Arab country, who opposes any kind of democracy and will never let anything looking like freedom to sneak into his kingdom.
Cohen got an absolutely unique niche in the entertainment industry. His characters become something more than just fiction. Borat was outstanding in some sense; the jokes from the movie were quickly learnt and quoted by almost everyone who bothered to watch the movie (despite the notorious quality of the jokes, which exploited practically only a couple of topics). Bruno, on the other hand, failed badly. Partly because of the high expectations, partly because of the poor plot, but the movie failed to amuse in the same shocking and provocative way. This is why I was a bit worried about the Dictator – the movie could have gone in both directions.
In reality, though, it took a middle ground. It is not a failure, as Bruno was, but it is not incredibly funny either. There are many really funny jokes (jokes about the gender of babies being my personal favourites), that make you laugh out loud. But this movie is too fictional; it does not follow the suit laid down by Borat of mockumentary-style provocations and explicit trolling. The characters are not there to take the mickey out of clumsy and slow men on the street. They are there to say the jokes which were carefully scripted.
And this is what actually distinguishes the movie from other Cohen’s works. Rigid, pre-written boundaries do not allow him to enjoy himself. He finds it hard to fully assimilate with the character, simply because there is no need to do so – and the biggest, the funniest part goes straightaway. Cohen forces himself to crack jokes, meaning that in the intervals between the jokes the movie does not exist. It sails from joke to joke, from one background for a joke to another. It does not flow naturally, and this is the reason why it will never be as popular as Borat.
This is very uneven comedy, with brilliant jokes and wooden, unnecessary characters. Of course, it goes without a hint of a doubt, the quality of the jokes remains the signature dish of any Cohen movie. He still exploits the same vulgar, immoral and politically incorrect topics, but if he does not do this to perfection, nobody will ever be able to. And, moreover, this is probably the only thing that Cohen knows how to do: when the only smart joke is performed, where Cohen compares dictatorship with democracy in America, it sounds so unnatural, like from the other planet, absolutely alien to the general theme.
Let us wish Cohen to stay on track, to return to Borat-like provocations and improvisations - this is his comparative advantage, I hope he realises it and exploits it.