The Dictator Review

To a dictator, the little things matter. For instance, imagine you begin instituting a nuclear weapons program and your top engineer designs the missiles with a round top, not a pointy one. That’s cause for execution.

For Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), his life is full of those problems, although people who wrong him are simply executed. It weens down the gene pool rapidly, or ensures his own brand of wild idiocy stays in power. Aladeen isn’t invincible though, one of his top generals hatching a plan to have him replaced by a look-a-like at a major US peace keeping summit, stripping Aladeen of his beard. It’s always the beard.

Dictator has a lot of ideas for its gags, arguably too many to fit within this thin 80-minute framework. Critical elements feel pushed aside to squeeze an extra minute out of a masturbation joke… actually, ignore that last line.

The film is rushed into narrative service, Aladeen adjusting to a New York attitude while taking a linking to a roadside protestor, Zoey (Anna Faris). She runs a green supermarket, doesn’t shave, and takes a feminist stand, all of which seems to offend this soon to be “Supreme Grocer.” The inevitable breakdown in that romance is obvious since Zoey is unaware of Aladeen’s true identity.

Fish out of water genre gags are in full effect, all while the Supreme Leader’s second in command is helping to regain access to the country he dictates. Their plot to take down the double posing as the dictator takes a few stops, including prison after a case of mistaken terrorism. Prison rape jokes commence.

Dictator takes every chance to offend, but sort of like South Park, it’s in tune with America’s issues. Satirical riffs are evident, although nowhere are they stronger than in the grand final speech. Cohen stands proud as he discusses America’s disdain for dictatorships, all the while rattling off ways in which we are. The material isn’t eye-opening, but it’s a relief that Cohen doesn’t shove his penis at the screen and call it a day. That was done earlier in the film.

This isn’t Cohen and director Larry Charles’ best work – which doesn’t say much for their scripted material – although it remains a crisp, lean piece that drops in comedic zingers even if there’s no time for them. This is a team that knows how to work an audience, offend them no matter their sensitivities, and somehow send them home happy. This dictatorship wins.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Dictator is rather ugly, and that’s said with some affection. Most of the problems lie at the source, beginning with a garish color scheme that robs the image of any accuracy for golden hues. Flesh tones are zapped with a case of the oranges, and teal backdrops are not that uncommon. It takes out some of the energy, certainly in the contrast, and levels off the depth.

Also missing in action is fine detail, a digital source regularly betraying medium shots, smoothing them over for a lackluster layer of definition. Even up close, facial detail is bland and materials such as Aladeen’s stack of medals are merely passable. The best stuff are the shots of New York (likely stock in most cases) and images of the palace in the fictional Wadiya.

Being free of general imperfections such as noise, compression or aliasing gives this AVC encode a little relief. The same can be said for the black levels which hold a grip on their integrity without dropping below their hard lock on perfection. Were the contrast treated with a little more care, this one may have come together despite the dip in high-fidelity texture.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Highlights for this DTS-HD mix come in the first 20-minutes. Aladeen gives a speech to his people in the early moments, speakers carrying his words well out of the center channel. Reverb in the surrounds is completely convincing for a gathering of that size. The crowd is equally bright, establishing a presence in the surrounds as they cheer.

A small fire is the only thing catching the low-end around 15-minutes in, the blaze working hard to add something to this straightforward effort. Outside, New York is dead with little to no ambient work in the surrounds. It’s amazing how quiet the city seems. It’s clear from the beginning the mix is more than ready to put in the time, and while the intangibles are in place (balanced dialogue, flawless fidelity), there’s little else worth the time.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Fifteen deleted/extended scenes highlight the bonus section, running a hair over a half hour. A funny mock interview with Larry King is worth a watch, and the disc also plays host to a music video. Paramount includes an unrated extended cut that bulks up the film by 15-minutes. Note the screen shots are from the theatrical edition.

Extras ★★☆☆☆ 

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.