Wednesday, May 16, 2012 | 5:16 p.m.
Thanks to the success of his movies Borat and Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen is so famous that he can no longer make movies like Borat and Brüno. Even costumed and made up, he’s too recognizable to be let loose on unsuspecting people to make them look silly in their responses to his deliberately offensive antics. So instead, his latest comically inappropriate foreigner character, General Aladeen, despotic ruler of the fictional North African country of Wadiya, appears as the star of scripted movie The Dictator, making unsuspecting fictional people look silly in their responses to his deliberately offensive antics.
Borat and Brüno may have both been a bit one-note, but there was a certain level of excitement to Baron Cohen’s willingness to push people’s buttons and risk bodily harm in his efforts to create comedic discomfort. The Dictator has occasional moments of social commentary (Aladeen gives a speech toward the end of the movie that is a brutal critique of American government), but for the most part it’s a dumb gross-out comedy that’s inches away from being an Adam Sandler movie.
After introducing the egomaniacal and moronic Aladeen in his home country, the movie quickly moves to New York City, where Aladeen has been summoned to address the United Nations. But his treacherous top advisor (Ben Kingsley) has Aladeen kidnapped and replaced by a double, and so the real Aladeen must make his own way in New York, falling for a vegan food co-op manager (Anna Faris) and teaming up with a former Wadiyan nuclear scientist (Jason Mantzoukas) to reclaim his rightful place as head of state.
The humor relies heavily on Aladeen’s obliviousness about both American society and everyday human interactions, but as with Baron Cohen’s other characters, his broad accent and exaggerated prejudices get old quickly. The plot combines culture-clash and romantic-comedy clichés to minimal effect, and while some of the more pointed political humor succeeds, it’s overwhelmed by moronic vulgarity. Faced with constructing a story for his character rather than just a string of interactions, Baron Cohen comes up frustratingly short.