The Dictator, 83mins (15)

Despot comedy is no laughing matter

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The Independent Culture

The latest character to give Sacha Baron Cohen the license to say outrageous and offensive things is General Aladeen, the composite ruler of an oil-rich Middle Eastern country, as despotic as he is idiotic.

Used to having his own way and liable to execute any and all opposition voices, he's like a spoilt, ignorant and unsocialised child. So perhaps it's no wonder that, when the fish-out-of-water plot robs his identity and dumps him in New York, the film's sense of humour is so immature and scatological.

In Borat and Brüno, Cohen caused calculated offence in order to gauge the morality, taste and decency of the real people and situations with which he interacted. But there are no real people or real situations in The Dictator, only flimsy caricatures, so all we're left with is the sight of a previously daring comic performer mining cheap laughs from bodily functions and women's underarm hair. There are a handful of inspired inversions and throwaway lines, but Cohen's targets are far too easy. And seeming to reveal – for the first time in one of his films – the desire to be liked, he even goes soft on Aladeen: the general is put into conventional rom-com situations in which we're supposed to root for him, hope that he gets the girl, and conveniently overlook the fact that he's a murderous paedophile dictator.