The Dictator review: A hilarious rom-com…. disguised as a surprisingly deft political satire

A hilarious rom-com…. disguised as a surprisingly deft political satire: First review of Baron Cohen's The Dictator

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UPDATED:

21:06 GMT, 10 May 2012

The Dictator (15)

Verdict: Comic genius!

Sacha Baron Cohen welcomed us to the world premiere of his latest film in character, as General Aladeen, a North African dictator.

'Death to the west!' he exclaimed benignly. 'Hello English devils!'

He was clearly struck by the novelty of walking a red carpet: 'Normally when I’m on a red carpet, it’s because I beheaded someone in my living room.'

The word of mouth on this movie was far from good, and the decision not to have a national press screening ominous. But over the course of ninety minutes, it wrecked all my worst expectations.

Hilarious: Sacha Baron Cohen as General Aladeen in The Dictator

Hilarious: Sacha Baron Cohen as General Aladeen in The Dictator

The Dictator may be the most conventionally structured of Sacha Baron Cohen’s films – it’s essentially a romcom – but to my mind it’s the funniest.

It tells the story of a North African dictator who tortures and executes his own people on a whim and is building weapons of mass destruction with which he hopes to obliterate Israel.

Over the course of a visit to berate the UN in New York, he loses his beard to a US torturer (John C. Reilly), whose methods strike our hero as laughably primitive.

'These,' he snorts at one hideous implement, 'are banned in Saudi Arabia for being too safe'.

When he winds up in prison, he is equally unimpressed by the lack of discipline among American prison guards: 'They raped me in a very unprofessional way.'

Comic: Cohen was attending by his sexy army of women at the film's world premiere in London tonight

Comic: Cohen was attending by his sexy army of women at the film's world premiere in London tonight

The romcom element He loses his heart to a green, American leftist with hairy armpits and a grocery co-op (Anna Faris).

This causes him to re-examine his life and values, but not exactly in the ways you might imagine.

Why do I give it five stars There really are laughs galore, from the opening dedication 'in loving memory of Kim Jong-Il' right through to a bitter-sweet twist at the end.

Anyone familiar with the Baron Cohen oeuvre will know that some jokes will be in bad taste. But many of them are – including, dare one say it, a video game based on the mass murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics – witty, as well as funny.

There are gross-out gags, but much of the script is unfashionably sophisticated. It even finds room in the final scenes for genuinely telling satire at the expense of 'democrats' who allow too many infringements on our liberties.

This is not only a very funny film, it’s a surprisingly deft political satire. I very much doubt if there will be a funnier movie this year.