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The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen switches gears, delivering another button-pushing protagonist, but in a scripted fish-out-of-water comedy

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After unleashing his agit-prop characters Borat and Bruno on the unsuspecting public in previous films, Sacha Baron Cohen switches gears slightly, delivering another button-pushing protagonist, but in a scripted fish-out-of-water comedy. In Larry Charles' The Dictator, Cohen portrays the titular character, a made-up megalomaniacal despot from a made-up North African country, who — through various comic circumstances — finds himself wandering unknown through New York City with only a veggie peacenik (Anna Faris) for support.

Cohen shamelessly takes every low road to laughs, from giant poops to assaulting kids; he offends every ethnic group and blithely cracks jokes about 9/11 and assorted terrorism. (Is it too soon to poke fun at the 1972 Munich Olympics?) Offensive? Well, Cohen is obviously trying so hard to be offensive that the effort takes some of the sting out of it. I was more bothered by how juvenile so many jokes were, when Cohen clearly has the skills to make a much cleverer and sharper satire. (Take note of co-star Sir Ben Kingsley who manages to survive this frequently puerile romp quite unscathed.) The Dictator's few moments of bite or clever comedy are simply small gems buried in a heaping pile of vulgar jokes about pubic hair and gay sex. Your call if the dig is worth the effort.

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