COULD kamikaze comedy king Sacha Baron Cohen be losing some of his lustre?
The fearless British-Jewish funnyman cultivated a legion of followers (including this reviewer) when in 2000 he launched his satirical BBC TV series Da Ali G Show, introducing his ridiculously over-the-top fictitious journalists – wannabe black Ali G, misogynistic and bigoted but endearingly big-hearted Kazakhstani Borat Sagdiyev and gay Austrian fashionista Bruno.
All three alter-egos, which cleverly appropriated cultural stereotypes, spawned their own feature films.
Ali G Indahouse (2002) bombed at the box office, before Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) propelled the Cambridge-educated comic into the celebrity stratosphere, only for Bruno (2009) to achieve moderate success.
Proving yet again that Borat is a hard act to follow is The Dictator, Cohen’s fourth feature that deviates from the formula of the first three.
It’s a new character not seen before in Da Ali G Show and it has the jazzed-up look and feel of a major studio release: linear storyline, love sub-plot and actors (Anna Faris, John C. Reilly) actually cast in scripted roles.
Gone is the unpredictable ambush mockumentary style that made Borat such a random, yet well-orchestrated, hit.
If you have avoided The Dictator’s guerrilla marketing campaign, here is a heavily edited synopsis: Cohen plays General Admiral Aladeen, the tyrannical leader of the fictitious Republic of Wadiya, who goes to great lengths (as far as the UN in New York) to protect his beloved country from the clutches of evil, namely the West’s oil and democratic interests.
As a political satire, The Dictator works well, cleverly ridiculing ruthless leaders like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and the late Muammar al-Gaddafi, but of course the biggest joke is reserved for the Americans and their perceptions of the Arab world.
For all of Cohen’s intelligent political insults, however, his insistence on peppering The Dictator with gross-out sexual gags and adhering to Hollywood conventions may well suggest a running out of the fresh, original ideas that catapulted him to fame in the first place.
THE Dictator (MA15+)
Directed by: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars