We’re used to seeing Sacha Baron Cohen conjuring his comedy from undercover roles such as Brüno and Borat, that translate into toe-curling laughs. Ironically, the success of this approach means the comic is now too widely recognised to rely on his anonymity, so he’s turned his talents to scripted comedy.
Admiral General Aladeen - an amalgam of various despots including Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi - is the star of Baron Cohen's latest movie outing, The Dictator, which premiered in London on Wednesday and featured an appearance by the man himself ("Death to the West! Hello you English devils!")
Various stunts (most notably a slightly flat Oscars red carpet appearance) and a whole lot of associated hype have made The Dictator a much talked about movie, but how are the critics rating this new direction for Baron Cohen? Here's a round-up of some of the early reviews...
Robbie Collin in The Telegraph suggests the film is the poorer for it: “Because this time the people around him are actors, the stakes are noticeably lower than they were in Brüno and Borat. The opening half-hour, in particular, is a real slog.” But Collin does acknowledge the winning formula of Baron Cohen’s trademark grotesque comedy, adding, “it’s not merely disgusting, it’s dazzlingly so… invigoratingly offensive in one way or another, and there are a handful of moments that deserve to endure.”
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian gives the film four stars, mentioning its “big, conventionally contrived gags and a colossal central turn from the man himself.” Overall he admits, “The Dictator isn’t going to win awards and it isn’t as hip as Borat. Big goofy outrageous laughs is what it has to offer.”
David Sexton in The Evening Standard also commends Baron Cohen’s performance: “An absolutely vicious clown, a truly toxic buffoon. He has such an extraordinary physical presence, so tall and ungainly, shoving his unacceptability right in your face and not going away, an outrage in our midst that we can’t quite credit. That’s genius in its way.”
The Daily Mail’s Chris Tookey awards the film five stars, applauding the “laughs galore, from the opening dedication ‘in loving memory of Kim Jong-Il’ right through to a bitter-sweet twist at the end.” He praises the “unfashionably sophisticated” script and writes, “this is not only a very funny film, it’s a surprisingly deft political satire. I very much doubt if there will be a funnier movie this year.”
The word of mouth on this movie did not bode well but, although lacking in footage from a shocked unsuspecting public, the reviews suggest it successfully delivers the gross-out humour we've come to expect from Baron Cohen's oeuvre.
The comedian arrived at The Dictator’s premiere dressed in character as Admiral General Aladeen, flanked by models scantily clad in military uniforms. True to form he waved a golden-plated pistol at waiting press, announcing “Sorry I am late. I was doing some shopping at the British Home Stores and I got clamped. I refuse to pay your parking rates. And they call me the international war criminal!"
The Dictator is on general release from Wednesday 16 May.