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Film Review: The Dictator

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The jokes; the milking of a woman’s breasts, a Wii game based on the killing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, a speech that innocently evokes America’s democratic failings in the so-called war on terror; betray Cohen’s weakness for infantilism and overstatement. He forgets, as many comedians do, that students aren’t the only constituency invested with a sense of humour.

Cohen is right to think that the likes of the former Libyan despot and North Korea’s rotting, though eternal leader, are inherently comic and ripe for ridicule, but the film never squares the circle of how to place such an individual centre stage while maintaining audience sympathy. The result is a depressingly conventional fudge in which the in-exile leader, who just wants to be loved naturally, cultivates a relationship and is persuaded to do the right thing by his new beau.

Obstacles that might impinge on this well-worn arc are dealt with ruthlessly. Aladeen’s mass-murdering credentials are underwritten with a revelation that everyone he’s ever sentenced to death has been smuggled out of the country by Michelle of the résistance. His decision to succumb to the democracy loving Faris foils Ben Kingsley’s plan to sell their country to the multinationals. Indeed, nothing can stand in the way of the audience forgiving Aladeen for his former transgressions, not even an anti-democratic postscript which, coming in the final minute, is deployed safe in the knowledge that the film’s work in rehabilitating the general has been done.

Cohen doesn’t even have the guts to follow through on the movie’s final joke – the suggestion that Aladeen will execute Faris for being Jewish, as a mere 20 seconds later, embedded amongst the end credits, she’s notably (and tragically) alive and announcing her pregnancy on TV. I am alone in thinking that Chris Morris would have had her throat cut? I know I would.

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Directed by: Larry Charles

Country: US

Year: 2012

Running Time: 83 mins

Certificate: 15 for turgid identity politics, genital exposure and one instance of Megan Fox.