When Da Ali G Show made its debut on HBO back in 2003, it was blade-of-a-straight-edge sharp. Sacha Baron Cohen's ghetto-talking, goggle-eyed Brit was brutally funny due to one essential element - that of surprise.
G's "interviews" with elites like Newt Gingrich, John McCain and the late Andy Rooney were uproarious because the subjects weren't in on the joke - they were blindsided by Cohen's audaciously crass line of questioning and we were rewarded with a litany of LOL moments.
Baron Cohen carried that premise into the oft-hilarious Borat and the woefully-lame Bruno but his undercover gig is up with The Dictator, a film that suffers from a lack of organicism that made moments like butchering the "The Star-Spangled Banner" in front of a bunch of rodeo lovers backslappingly riotous.
As the fictional madman of the made-up country of Wadiya, Cohen is Admiral General Aladeen, a thickly-bearded, bombastic hybrid of Muammar Gaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The despot enriches uranium by day and beds celebs like Megan Fox at night.
Summoned to the U.N. to explain Wadiya's nuclear aspirations, Aladeen arrives in NYC, promptly holding a parade on camel paired with a sea of sky blue Lamborghinis. But soon after his arrival in the Big Apple, Aladeen's uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley hooking up once again with his 'Hugo' mate), launches a coup - replacing Aladeen with a dim-witted double in an effort to sell off Wadiya's oil to the highest bidder.
Enter a downright homely Anna Faris, AKA Zoey, manager of a indie Whole Foods-ish store, who - after receiving a barrage of (ashamedly) rollickingly disparaging remarks about: women, race, you name it - proves to be Aladeen's soul mate. With the world at his feet, all the guy really needs is a hug.
You have to wonder if Faris' agent knew exactly what his client was getting into, Aladeen's endless stream of derogatory cracks about Faris' non-feminine appearance aren't exactly career-affirming. Yes, it's a comedy but the level of nastiness often feels like a roasting of Faris herself.
The aforementioned comparisons between Baron Cohen's prior work and The Dictator are inevitable - it's the latter that takes the hit.
While on a helicopter tour of Manhattan, Aladeen and his nuclear cronie have a discussion in Arabic that happens to include the numbers 9 and 11. The reactions of the slack-jawed tourists on board are exactly as expected but where Borat had unsuspecting victims, The Dictator is stuck with actors; the Candid Camera element erased. As is the shock value.
While many of the movie's scenes go on a beat or three too long, The Dictator offers just enough raw entertainment value to plop down the price of admission. That said, Baron Cohen's act has become a car in dire need of a new set of tires after tanking the tread test. The entire penny is showing, not just the top of Lincoln's dome.