Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Sir Ben Kingsley, John C Reilly
Released: Thursday May 17th
I have to admit I was apprehensive before seeing this movie. There were huge expectations surrounding this flick, not least because everything that Baron Cohen has touched for the past several years has turned to gold. As a huge fan of his previous work I felt that this could possibly become a victim of its own hype. And boy was it hyped – from the unceremonious hijacking of the Academy Awards red carpet by the subject of the movie, Admiral General Aladeen, where he threw an urn purported to contain the ashes of Kim Jong-il over E! host Ryan Seacrest, to a poster campaign that has seen portrait-style images of Cohen in full dictator regalia staring out at the public from strategically placed billboards, not unlike those that adorned the streets of real life dictatorships.
Thankfully my fears were allayed somewhat when the first frame unceremoniously dedicates the film to Kim Jong-il, which had the audience in stitches. However, getting a cheap laugh at the very beginning and sustaining it throughout is easier said than done but thanks to a witty script, a premise that is sure to have conspiracy theorists analysing the death of other dictators and an amazing performance from Baron Cohen the laughs do indeed keep coming fast and hard.
He plays the aforementioned Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of Wadiya, who is proud of his efforts to ensure democracy does not reach his country. While in New York to address the UN, an attempt is made on his life. He manages to turn the tables on his torturer and escape but loses his trademark beard in the process. Stranded in a strange city and with his lookalike already having taken his place, he is forced to take a job in Anna Faris’ politically correct general store while formulating a plan to restore his position. Along the way he learns some life lessons, falls in love and reassesses his life – although he never changes his spots that much.
The fish out of water tale has been done before but here there is a charm to it that is often lacking. As usual Baron Cohen takes no prisoners and nothing is off limits when it comes to his comedy. The massacre of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, 9/11 and abortion all get a look in here and, while some people may take offence, he handles it so beautifully that the vast majority of the cinema going public will not be able to contain their laughter. Even a scene where the usurped despot finds himself forced to deliver a baby that would appear completely tasteless and inappropriate anywhere else is hilarious here thanks to some genius comic timing and the most surreal, gross but strangely sweet love scene you will ever see.
In less experienced hands this film could have been an unmitigated disaster. In Baron Cohen’s hands it is a laugh out loud joy to behold that even manages to leave you with food for thought about the true nature of democracy – not something you usually expect from a comedy. Definitely the funniest film I’ve seen this year, my only complaint is that it leaves you wanting more. Hang around for the credits as there are plenty of hilarious outtakes and extra scenes to keep you laughing for a few more minutes.