Anyone familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen’s canon of work knows that he is a no holds barred type of bloke. With The Dictator, that mentality is taken to a whole new level of uproariously offensive humor. No topic remains untouched, no ethnic group remains unscorned. And yet, Baron Cohen is so adept at using his outrageousness to hold a mirror back up to current societal shortcomings, that it makes audiences finally see everything clearly.
With the opening title card being “In loving memory of Kim Jong Il,” the tongue in cheek direction of the film is immediately established. As the camera pans over the palace of Wadiyan (yes, it’s a made up country in North Africa) dictator Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen), we see the lavish circumstances under which he lives, including a pool in the shape of his very distinctive, beard-clad head. There is nothing out of reach for the privileged dictator, who pays famous people to sleep with him. Megan Fox is just one in a slew of stars Aladeen has been able to say “You now have herpes” to after having sex with them. The dictator has even altered the Wadiyan language to suit his limited vocabulary (the words “positive” and “negative” both translate to Aladeen, as in “You’re HIV Aladeen.”), just one of the many examples of his selfish stupidity.
The controversy surrounding Aladeen has been mounting after his refusal to allow the UN and NATO into the country, prompting the threat of a NATO airstrike on the part of the U.S. should Aladeen refuse to make an appearance in New York City to speak at the UN regarding his nuclear arms possession. All the while, Aladeen’s righthand man, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), has been seeking out a double who will take Aladeen’s place and do Tamir’s bidding instead of getting assassinated on Aladeen’s behalf. He finds the perfect, incredibly stupid substitute just in time for Aladeen’s trip to New York.
Upon arriving at the hotel in New York, Tamir introduces Aladeen to his bodyguard (John C. Reilly) for the duration of his stay, not realizing that hours later he is going to find himself in the basement of an abandoned Queens warehouse being “tortured” (though Aladeen finds his methods quite tame) by said bodyguard at the behest of Tamir. In a stroke of good fortune, the bodyguard’s pants catch fire, spreading to the ropes that have Aladeen trapped. He breaks out and flees, though unfortunately, the bodyguard managed to rip off his beard and, therefore, his identity.
Stranded as a commoner with a legion of protesters outside the UN, Aladeen goes unnoticed by anyone except Zoey (Anna Faris), who mistakes him for a Wadiyan refugee and offers him a job at her, to put it broadly, health foods store. Aladeen insults her hairy armpits and lesbianic tendencies and then leaves, hoping to find someone else who will help him reclaim his power. As he gazes at himself in front of the Apple store, he notices Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), one of his former chief scientists (who he thought was beheaded at his request), working there. Simultaneously appalled and relieved, he follows Nadal to the Marcy Avenue stop, renamed in the film to Little Wadiya (a change I find amusing considering the prevalence of Hasidic Jews in this neighborhood) and discovers a restaurant where every government aide he ever ordered beheaded is alive and well. The owner of the restaurant (Fred Armisen, once again multi-faceted enough to prove he can play any ethnicity) finds Aladeen strangely familiar and nearly kills him until Nadal vouches that he is his cousin.
The motives for Nadal’s mercy are, of course, selfish as he wants the resources to continue his work in building a nuclear missile. Aladeen agrees to Nadal’s terms and goes back to Zoey’s store for the job after discovering she is the one catering the event of the year, fake Aladeen’s signing of a democratic constitution. Once Wadiya becomes a democracy, Tamir will be able to sell and trade the country’s oil reserves to any country he wishes, even though Aladeen had expressly forbid it.
In the meantime, Aladeen finds himself surprisingly enamored with Zoey in spite of her uncomely appearance and radical leftist views. His affection for her increases tenfold after Zoey teaches him how to masturbate and they end up holding hands in a woman’s vagina (Kathryn Hahn) after she goes into labor in the store. While The Dictator plays up the cracked out love story between Aladeen and Zoey, the inherent theme lies at the end of the movie when the real Aladeen gives a press conference in which he spouts the perks of being a dictator in a manner that calls out the United States government for all of its dick(tatorial) ways. And so, once again, this British man has shown that he can speak far more eloquently on the nature of this country than any American political pundit.