Now as Qaddafi-esque despot Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen in “The Dictator,” Cohen can’t hide behind his new outrageous caricature, despite months of in-character publicity pranks. We can see through Cohen’s new clothes. Too bad, because the comedian was having fun making us simple folk look stupid, on and off screen. It was an extended “Candid Camera” bit, laced with gross-out jokes.
What we’re left with in “The Dictator” is a dopey “Coming to America” comedy, done previously by Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy. It would be tempting to compare it to the Charlie Chaplin classic, “The Great Dictator,” because of a similar plot device, where the mad leader is replaced by an innocent double. But that would be a stretch the width of the Grand Canyon.
After some introductory, expository gags about the Admiral General’s destined rise to power in the fictional North African nation of Wadiya, Aladeen takes a trip to Manhattan to speak at the United Nations. There, he is stripped of his absurd beard and cast into the street as a normal New Yorker, with his moronic lookalike assuming the role of Wadiyan tyrant. Orchestrated by his uncle, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), the scheme is to result in Aldeen declaring at the U.N. that his country is becoming a democracy, ensuring big oil bucks for Uncle T.
The beardless Aladeen does “The Prince and the Pauper” thing as a New York City nobody, learning about humility and love from boyish-looking activist Zoey (Anna Faris) whom he calls “a lesbian Hobbit.”
“The Dictator” is amusing if you enjoy insulting every race, color and creed. And there’s a point to be made about how America is the land of the rich and greedy, which should appeal to the Occupy Wall Streeters. If only Admiral General Aladeen had made it and not the successful Hollywood star/writer/producer Sacha Baron Cohen.