Halley's Comet is visible every 75 or 76 years. Sure, there are brighter, sexier comets, but they come around once in thousands of years and you're lucky if you're alive when one decides to grace us with its presence. But like clockwork, there's Halley's. And it's still a comet, for crying out loud, so that in itself is pretty spectacular. Sacha Baron Cohen is the Halley's Comet of comedic actors. Every three years, we get to see him take our normal-person taboos and moon them. He scoffs at our propriety and makes us cringe-laugh. His commitment to messing with us is breathtaking. So, The Dictator is a slightly new approach to the same end, and even if it's not perfect, it's close enough.
This is his first movie that is scripted from start to finish, and doesn't have everyday, unsuspecting folks taken by surprise in it. It was a smart move, considering that his character this time around is General Aladeen from the fake country Wadiya, where women have no rights and can't aspire to be anything but his stone faced, leggy bodyguards (among other depressingly hysterical tyrannical details). Cohen's trademark interviews and troublemaking probably would have ended worse than usual, given our current skittishness about terrorism and racism. Borat was sweet and innocent, and Bruno much less so, but Aladeen is a man only a mother could love. And even then, she'd probably have doubts.
Aladeen is supposed to come to New York to discuss his nuclear weapons arsenal with the United Nations. Instead, he gets outsmarted by a trusted member of his staff and replaced by one of his dumb body doubles who is told to sign a peace treaty. Suddenly, the man who needed the allegiance of no one is all alone, left with only the kindness of a dirty hippie (Anna Faris) to help show him the true meaning of life. Of course he spends the whole movie not getting it, but that's where Cohen is best. He shows us how life really is, not how we want it to be. The truth shall set your laughs free.
There are plenty of great jokes in here, mostly because of Cohen's complete lack of fear about inciting the anger of the entire world. As a whole, though, the plot is paper thin and never really feels as cutting-edge as it did 12 years ago…but does anything? The whole point is to watch white people scared that anyone non-white talking about the Statue of Liberty is a terrorist. For 83 minutes, it barely hangs on to tolerable, but there's still a lot to like about the unlikable Aladeen.