Sasha Baron Cohen’s schtick almost amounts to an act of anti-marketing. With every costumed appearance the British actor made to promote The Dictator, including interviews with media outlets that embarrassingly agreed to interview him in character, I grew less excited about his comic turn as deposed tyrant Admiral General Aladeen. So it was a pleasant surprise when the movie turned out not to be another example of Cohen’s trick-the-Yankee-rubes, Candid Camera gimmick. Instead, The Dictator is a fairly standard fish-out-of-water satire, albeit with jokes about zany foreigners, numbskull Americans, uptight feminists—and, of course, rape (though always against the rapists, so, you know, it’s cool). A lot of the gags are in fact funny. The satire is less effective: Cohen’s epauletted, 1970s-style oil despot lands just as an actual Middle Eastern revolt is being crushed by a hereditary strongman with a British education and a wife who’s been featured in Vogue. If he’d figured out a way to lampoon suit-clad brutes who hire American PR firms to spin their atrocities, the gaudy promotion might be worth it. Instead, in offering up an over-the-top Gadhafi manqué, he seems as out of step as those obese ignoramuses who had the misfortune of encountering Borat and Bruno.

The film shows all week at area theaters. See our showtimes for listings.

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