The Dictator 2012 ★½

The Dictator is a film which will benefit from the pop-culture hype machine of Sacha Baron Cohen.

The Brit has managed to carve out a name for himself - any film he puts out will instantly be a must-see for anybody under 30, sight unseen.

But Bruno was no Borat. Where Borat offered an entertaining socio-political commentary, Bruno instead spent 82 minutes trying to force you to be offended.

The Dictator finds the middle ground, but only picks up the worst qualities of each film.

We all know what Cohen will do with his films, and some could argue that being offended by The Dictator is like being offended by a stand-up comedian. But there is entertaining offensive and insensitive offensive.

The September 11 jokes verge on crossing the line, but pull back enough to remain humorous. The rape and forced abortion shticks do not, and one particular scene referencing the Munich Massacre is a step way too far.

Actually, the best jokes in the film are the ones which don’t try to be risque to get laughs. Unfortunately you’ve seen most of them in the trailer.

But maybe Cohen is just making a political commentary on how we expect megalomaniacal leaders to behave? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Osama Bin Laden, Moammar Gaddafi… we expect them all to be womanising, homophobic stereotypes who hate Israel. By living up to that character is Cohen questioning our political alignments, or simply playing a well-known gag for cheap laughs?

The latter. It offers no intelligent insight until late in the piece, and when it comes it comes from nowhere. It’s your typical Hollywood redemption story.

He’s assembled a pretty good ensemble cast – Ben Kingsley always turns in a good performance, Jason Mantz is stellar in his regular role on US sitcom The League and Kevin Corrigan is a good actor in his own right.

It is incredibly apt that Anna Farris is given a lead role in the film, because The Dictator is similar to her Scary Movie stuff – incredibly formulaic with no lingering appeal.

Not an entertaining watch, but a film you will have to see so you can understand pop culture references for the next year.

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