It’s been nearly a week since I saw The Dictator. I don’t like holding off on writing reviews, as I tend to have my cogent thoughts on a film immediately after seeing it. But with The Dictator, I had absolutely no reaction. There wasn’t a drive to commit anything to text. While I’ve had plenty of time to actually reflect on the film, nothing about it really demands recollecting. For a film aimed at trying to illicit political reaction through humor, there’s really nothing about it that warrants thought.
The Dictator’s primary problem stems from its embrace of conventional comedy tropes. Whereas Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous vehicles (Borat and Bruno) were largely constructed without a clear narrative framework, The Dictator adopts a straightforward plotline. This, in and of itself, isn’t a negative, so long as the comedic well doesn’t dry up halfway through the film. With The Dictator, there’s hardly enough any humor to supply ten minutes of the picture, let alone its 98-minute runtime.
Perhaps we could excuse the lacking comedic material if the political stance the picture takes has a measure of insight. But like so much of the picture, there’s only a fleeting sense of genuine political provocation. In what seems to be the film’s most praised scene, Cohen goes on a rant whereupon he compares democratic republics with dictatorships, glibly unaware of their similarities. But this scene, placed toward the end of The Dictator, functions in a way as to unite all the moving parts preceding the moment. With a film that half-heartedly addresses feminine subversion, organic farming, corporate expansion, Middle Eastern prejudices, etc, there’s simply too much lazy rhetoric being spewed to actually unite its moving parts. Individual sequences display glimpses of promise, but the writing behind every aspect of the picture is so disappointingly inert. There’s more time spent on a silly running gag of the mispronunciation of names than any of effort into developing a persuasive argument.
The vast nothingness that the picture offers is disappointing given that Cohen had been reliable as an aggressive commentator on American social norms. There’s genius to be found in Borat’s exploration of American culture. Bruno was more a rethread of the same material, albeit with larger emphasis on the South’s apprehension to homosexuality. But still, there was something to mull over. With The Dictator, Cohen can be seen grasping at straws, with only a working knowledge of how to wrap it all up – by the time we get there, it’s less a revelation and more a shrug.