I went into Sasha Baron Cohen's latest offering, the Dictator, hoping it would not be same as his previous films. Not that it wouldn't cross the line of taste and political correctness many, many times, but more that it would do so in a completely scripted way, one where hapless victims were not either coerced into being offended or else given a gentle prod to let their own prejudices shine though.
In the end, I was relieved when the movie turned out to be an entirely acted affair, so any pain in the humour and observations were entirely deliberate.
Being the sort of comedy designed to offend, there are quite a few misses in amongst the hits. Shorn of his beard while visiting New York, Cohen's Admiral General is cast aside, unrecognizable, and he is forced to try and regain his position as brutal Dictator of a small, oil-rich North African nation. During his journey, he manages to offend, learn next to nothing, and have a few madcap adventures along the way.
Anna Farris and Ben Kingsley were the main supporting actors, and while Kingsley can make almost anything look dignified (almost), Farris was in her best Scary Movie, hapless heroine brand of "bad" acting so was both awful and strangely appropriate. But mostly, the lens was on Cohen and he pulled out any stops, including his own dignity, to get a laugh.
The Dictator is never going to go down as a comedy classic (say, as 40 Year Old Virgin is), but it did manage to elicit quite a few laughs along the way. There was lots of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and a whole lot of other -isms, all designed to amuse and offend through excess and sheer audacity.
Really, for once, the marketing, some aimed squarely at NZ, was on the money - the film gave what it promised, and there were good bits that were not put into the trailer. And, for a crowd "pleasing" shocker film, that was exactly what the doctor, or the dictator, ordered.
Verdict: The Dictator was always going to be a guilty pleasure movie, and it did make me laugh. Will I see it again? Probably not, unless I stumble across it. Would I recommend it? Probably not, unless you appreciate Cohen's style. And how do I rate it? 6 Saddams out of 10.