The Dictator: Funny and Dumb Dark Humor in Sacha Baron Cohen's Latest Movie
Sacha Baron Cohen is a man who sees no boundary lines in the world of comedy. As Ali G, he asked the director of the CIA if there was danger of “terrorists hijacking a train, and driving it into the White House.” As Borat, he wished that America's Warlord Bush could “drink the blood of every single man, woman and child of Iraq!” And as Bruno, he treated focus groups (and theater audiences) to an extreme close-up of a waggling erection in slow motion. Cohen's trademark blend of wacky and edgy has always been described as pushing the envelope, but as Admiral General Aladeen, his humor is at its absolute darkest.
In many ways, Cohen is comparable to the legendary Andy Kaufman. Both created a variety of personas that they used to explore the comedic realm. And much like Kaufman, Cohen's less conventional explorations are not always funny to everyone. Borat alienated more than a few viewers with its infamous naked chase scene, just as Kaufman turned off an entire demographic with his inter-gender wrestling federation. It goes without saying, The Dictator will offend people, but just as many people will praise the movie’s politically incorrect shenanigans.
While I feel that absolutely nothing should be off-limits in comedy, I also take no particular joy in pure “shock value” humor. For me, there is a thick dark line between simply saying something crude or offensive, and making an edgy joke.
Many of the so-called jokes from The Dictator fall squarely in that first category. One especially troubling foray into the darkest depths of black humor describes a time when Admiral General Aladeen violently molested young boys, driving them to commit suicide. This wholly depressing scenario isn't even dressed up with clever writing or anything resembling a punch-line, and is instead laid bare in borderline deadpan fashion. The result is uncomfortable to say the least, and illustrates that not everything is funny just because you're joking about it.
Of course, there are plenty of times when Cohen manages to be both offensive and funny. Aladeen's misogynistic commentary on the futility of educating women is not stated flatly. His misguided opinion is expressed comedically through his comparison of a woman in college to a monkey on roller skates. Monkeys doing people-things is right out of Comedy 101, and for good reason. Misogyny is not inherently funny, but when conveyed in terms of a roller-skating chimp, it can become excellent comedic fodder.
Overall, The Dictator is a funny but flawed film. Though Cohen broke away from the mockumentary format of Borat and Bruno, he has stayed true to form in terms of unapologetic satire.
If you can overlook a few cringe inducing “jokes,” the occasional plot hole, and some ham-fisted schtick, then you will get a solid dose of Cohen's often ingenious and hilarious political commentary.
The climactic tongue-in-cheek monologue, which I won't spoil even a little bit, is almost worth the price of admission alone.