Unlike his precursors Bruno, Borat and Ali G, Admiral General Aladeen is not meant to fool anyone into thinking that he is real, so viewers are denied the full measure of smugness that is Baron Cohen’s special gift to bestow. In the earlier projects (Da Ali G Show and the movies Borat and Bruno), viewers were invited to chuckle at the appalling idiocy of Baron Cohen’s characters and also at the stupidity of the suckers who took his buffoonery at face value.
When Borat, the cretin of Kazakhstan, carried a bag of his own feces to the table at a genteel dinner party, the joke lay both in the outrageousness of his behavior and, somehow, in the dismayed — yet still curiously polite — reaction of his US hosts. We could laugh at his grossness, secure in the knowledge that we weren’t really xenophobic because we were also sneering at the fools falling for the trick. Dumb hicks. Dumb foreigners. Thank goodness we’re not bigots like them!
As repellent as this logic may be in retrospect, it at least provided a queasy jolt of excitement. Something – sensitivity, good taste, the nonaggression pact between comedians and the public – was being put at risk. And there was, beyond the nervy displays of satirical hostility, a dimension of goofy absurdism that sometimes (more in Borat than in Bruno) approached the level of sublimity. Very little of that happens here, and the main insult of The Dictator is how lazy it is.