Chutzpah has never been a problem for Sasha Baron Cohen, whose previous films, based on characters he created for television, were semi-documentaries of encounters with ordinary people who did their best to accommodate his outrageously offensive behavior. Whether he was getting a group of people at a rodeo to sing along with an anti-Semitic anthem as an Eastern European journalist in Borat, or get parents of babies to eagerly agree to put their infants in danger in order to be in a movie as the gay fashionista Brüno, Cohen exposed hypocrisy, bigotry, and general cluelessness, as well as the occasional sweetness and tolerance of Americans willing to respect cultural differences. After appearances in mainstream Hollywood films “Sweeney Todd” and “Hugo,” Cohen has returned to his favorite themes with a scripted film, working again with director Larry Charles, in a sharp political satire in the grand tradition of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America.” Except much dirtier. Chaplin never thought of shooting a scene from inside a woman in the middle of delivering a baby.
Cohen plays Aladeen the totalitarian dictator of North African country called Wadiya, which has caused concern in the rest of the world by developing a nuclear weapon. The development of the weapon as well as just about everything else in the country is obstructed by Aladeen’s egomania and peremptory Queen of Hearts-style ordering of executions for anyone who disagrees with him, bumps into him, or offends him in any way. He has an entire wall of famous Americans he paid to have sex with him, including Megan Fox, Oprah, Lindsay Lohan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Aladeen’s closest aide is Tahir (Sir Ben Kingsley), who is plotting to assassinate Aladeen so that he can take over and sell the country’s lucrative oil rights to Exxon, wealthy Chinese businessman Mr. Lao (Bobby Lee), a heterosexual who enjoys demonstrating his power by making male celebrities have sex with him (leading to a perfectly performed and hilarious cameo by a movie star not known for his sense of humor). Aladeen uses doubles (also played by Cohen) as decoys. After one is killed, he finds another who is something of a simpleton.
Aladeen and his new double go to New York so that he can address the UN about the nuclear weapon. Tahir arranges for the dictator to be captured and killed so that the double can sign the papers establishing Wadiya as a democracy that he needs to sell Mr. Lao and other corporations the oil rights — and become monumentally wealthy. Aladeen is captured and there is a funny scene when he talks his captor (John C. Reilly) out of torturing him with a friendly and knowledgeable discussion of torture implements and techniques. He does not get tortured but he does get shaved and thus unrecognizable as the dictator. So Aladeen ends up working in a Brooklyn collective food market run by Zoe (the ever-effervescent and always-game Anna Faris). Despite his contempt for her politics — and her unshaven underarms — he can’t help being captivated by her. Cohen tempers his fascination with the offensive and making the audience uncomfortable with a little bit of sweetness this time, and the story and the film benefit from it.
Parents should know that this movie has extensive crude and intentionally offensive material including racist and sexist and sexual humor, potty jokes, male nudity, and political humor.
Family discussion: How is Sasha Baron Cohen able to make points through satire that are not possible in serious political commentary and debate? Do you think he goes too far and how do you draw that line?
If you like this try: Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” “Coming to America,” and Cohen’s other movies