A comedy for our times
YOU know you’re heading into controversial territory with a Sacha Baron Cohen movie – and the comedian’s latest offering, The Dictator, delivers in those stakes.
Cringeworthy and offensive at times, Cohen has once again taken his brand of cultural satire into un-pc territory with his latest oddball character, General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen.
Aladeen rules over the fictional North African nation of Wadiya with absolute power, ensuring democracy remains a foreign concept in his tiny, oil-rich country.
He’s ‘‘the mad dog of Wadiya’’, who substitutes his own surname for both the words ‘‘positive’’ and ‘‘negative’’ and rules with such an iron grip that he guns down competitors in a 100m race, routinely orders the death of staff who question him and is protected by a guard of high-heeled, Amazonian security staff.
He’s also facing global pressure over a supposedly peaceful nuclear enrichment program.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because General Aladeen is inspired by real dictators – a little by late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a lot by Libya’s former ‘‘mad dog’’ Muammar Gaddafi.
The film has a lot to say about the brutality of oppressive regimes, while the West cops it for the ‘‘failures’’ of democracy. It’s all wrapped up in parody and comedy but no one is safe – women, homosexuals, Arabs, Asians and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They’re all given the Cohen treatment.
‘‘The way Ahmadinejad dresses is an embarrassment for dictators. He looks like a snitch on Miami Vice. I mean, why does he never wear a tie? Is every day in Iran casual Friday? What the f***?’’ the Dictator laments. Delivered by the same team behind Borat and Bruno, the controversy is expected. But the message is at times undermined by cheap laughs based on racial stereotypes.
Anna Faris, as Aladeen’s Earth-loving hipster love interest Zoey, gets her fair share of cracking one-liners, such as: ‘‘I’m the furthest from racist. I haven’t had a white boyfriend since college.’’
The Dictator is delivered well enough for its producers to get away with it and, in uncertain political times in the Arab world, its humour is also necessary.
The Dictator is screening now.
Ben Kingsley (as Tamir) and Sacha Baron Cohen (General Admiral Aladeen).