Anyone can be offensive. The skill comes with trying to get people to laugh at it. Sacha Baron Cohen, the mind behind the semi-scripted comedies Borat and Bruno, has shown a great skill at getting audiences to laugh at light comic fodder like incest, rape, anti-Semitism, screaming dickholes, and carrying bags of **** to the dinner table. He also tends to throw in a little social criticism for some spice. The Dictator marks his first feature-length, fully-scripted film, and while the blade may be a bit more polished, the edge remains razor-sharp. Despite a slapdash plot and a cop-out ending, The Dictator is brilliantly irreverent, juvenile, cartoonish, and it will have you laughing, feeling guilty about laughing, and then laughing even harder...
...Strangely, for all the jokes made at the expense of minorities and tragedies, The Dictator has a glass jaw. The ending fails to reconcile the monstrous acts of Aladeen with his newfound “humility”. The film ends up torn between the brilliant dark comedy of the previous 75 minutes and trying to leave audiences on an uplifting note. Cohen never wants us to feel conflicted about Aladeen, and his performance goes a long way in helping us feel sympathy towards the character. However, Cohen is incredibly reluctant in having Aladeen grow because doing so would fundamentally change what makes the character absurd. If Aladeen becomes kind and understanding and sheds off his authoritarian ways, then he’s not funny anymore. It’s bizarre that the movie can be a crowd-pleaser by making jokes about rape centers, but it’s too timid to buck the convention of a transformative arc.
As long as it stays away from timid compromise, The Dictator is a deliciously bad-taste comedy. I saw the film almost a week ago and I’m still chuckling when I think back on some of the jokes. Shock value dissipates quickly, but The Dictator never uses offense as an end unto itself. It’s always used in the service of gross-out humor, playful banter, cartoony situations, and joyous absurdity. The material may be offensive, but viewers can’t feel too offended when they’re laughing so damn hard.