The tone of "The Dictator" is set early on with a fake in memoriam card before the titles to Kim Jong-Il, the autocratic leader of long-suffering North Korea. Sacha Baron Cohen, known for his character comedy with Ali G, Borat and Bruno, has created a new persona with which to satirise the wealthy dictators of the world. General Aladeen is a simple-minded, arrogant, bigot, completely oblivious to everything but his own tiny world. He lives a life of luxury as the leader of an oil-rich North African country (a less than subtle nod to General Gaddafi). When his uncle conspires to get rid of him and replace him with a puppet president his beard is shaved off and Aladeen is left to wander around New York city, finding employment at an organic foodstore and an unexpected friend in the person of Zoe (Anna Faris).
The film's humour is in incredibly poor taste, veering from slapstick to political satire. There are a number of great jokes in here if you enjoy this kind of humour, but there are also points where the writing seriously lets the film down. The main problem is with the tonal shifts between laughing at the stupidity of the character, and then presenting some hard-hitting satire that doesn't quite gel with the other style of comedy. The over the top humour means that you never really feel invested enough in the characters to empathise when more serious topics are raised. I do feel that the world was ready for this film. From Charlie Chaplain's "The Great Dictator", these totalitarian regimes offer a rich seam of comedy, and puncturing the pomposity of these individuals is always something to be applauded. Unfortunately, this film offers mostly tired cliches about muslims, child-abuse, their hatred of Jews, and other well-rehearsed jokes. There are some great satirical moments poking fun at Western ideas of democracy, the conflict between radical left and right ideologies, but for the most part it is simply escapist fun. A few funny lines, crude humour, and a fairly unoriginal plot about seeing the world from another perspective. If you are a fan of his other films, you will probably enjoy this, but it feels like much more could have been done with this premise.