When Sacha Baron Cohen dressed up like The Dictator and dumped "Kim Jong-il's ashes" all over Ryan Seacrest's pristine red carpet tuxedo at the Oscars earlier this year, few (if any) cared. While everybody went crazy over Angelina's rogue leg, hardly anyone even batted an eye at Cohen's meticulously planned stunt (with the notable exception of his indignant victim Seacrest, of course).
To be fair to Cohen, it's hard to get a rise out of people after you've already shoved your bare ass into Eminem's face at the MTV Movie Awards or arrived at your own Toronto Film Festival movie premiere in a carriage pulled by a group of women. He has, after all, set the shock bar pretty high.
So the question is, if Cohen has lost the ability to shock people, does that negate his entire appeal? Most of the fun of watching Ali G and, later, Borat and Bruno, was wondering what outrageous stunt Cohen would pull next. If audiences don't think Cohen could possibly top his previous antics, does that take the fun out of the whole thing?
His latest movie, The Dictator, does offer a few hilariously shocking scenes, but it lacks the 'Omigod, I can't believe what I'm seeing' factor that Cohen's previous films had plenty of. Like when Paula Abdul sat on the help in Bruno, or when Borat and Hazmat let it all hang out in Borat's over-the-top nude fight scene.
A big part of what made Cohen's earlier work so fun to watch was seeing his characters interact with real people. Remember Bruno's incredibly awkward chat with Pastor Quinn, the "gay converter"? Or when Borat emerged from the bathroom with a bag of his own feces at an Alabama dinner party?
Unfortunately, now that more people are familiar with how Cohen operates (not to mention the lawsuits filed by the real folks who were "duped" into appearing in the flicks), it wasn't feasible for The Dictator to incorporate any real world interactions. The movie is entirely scripted, which definitely dampens the potential for shocking moments (especially since many of the actors are so easily recognizable, it's difficult to suspend your disbelief and imagine these are "real" people The Dictator is engaging with).
The Dictator's plot follows supreme leader Aladeen (of the fictional country Wadiya) as he heads to New York to speak at the United Nations. When his not-so-trusty number two, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, double-crosses him, Aladeen finds himself stranded in New York without any money, power or connections. He meets an earnest hippy chick (Anna Faris), who gives him a job at her earthy organic food shop.
The concept of a foreign dictator stranded in America is quite amusing, and lends itself well to a number of funny moments. Most of the movie's best scenes are at the beginning, when we see The Dictator at home and grossly abusing his power (like when he shoots his competitors during Wadiya's version of the Olympics).
There are plenty of outrageous scenes peppered throughout the rest of the flick, but none come close to outdoing Borat or Bruno.