Sacha Baron Cohen atones for the sins of Bruno with this gleefully bad taste fish-out-of-water comedy, which kicks sand in the eye of political correctness.
We’re in a perpetual state of discomfort during The Dictator, unsure where the scriptwriters might venture next for uneasy laughs.
No subject is off limits – the September 11 attacks, rape, sexual equality, Judaism – and Larry Charles’s film tramples merrily over social taboos, hitting more targets than it misses as the titular despot runs amok in the capitalist playground of New York City.
We can’t resist a wry smile when Cohen’s abominable protagonist makes a speech to American dignitaries and exposes the Land Of The Free as a dictatorship in all but name.
Like Borat and Bruno, Cohen is at the centre of the madness, relying on a script this time rather than inspired improvisation with the unsuspecting public.
He plays Admiral General Aladeen, tyrannical ruler of the African state of Wadiya, who is hiding the real Bin Laden in one of his opulent palace’s spare rooms.
During a visit to “the Devil’s nest” of America to address the United Nations about his nuclear arsenal, Aladeen is usurped by his duplicitous brother Tamir (Sir Ben Kingsley) and cast adrift on the streets, without his trademark beard or any form of identification.
Zoey (Anna Faris), the tomboyish manager of a vegan feminist non-profit co-operative, takes pity on Aladeen, who she accepts as an immigrant called Allison Burgers.
Sparks of romance are continually extinguished by Aladeen’s bigotry.
“I love it when a woman goes to school,” he sniggers to Zoey, who boasts a college education. “It’s like seeing a monkey on roller skates – it seems important to them, but it’s so adorable for us.”
Eventually, Zoey discovers the truth and is horrified.
“You lied to me... and you’re wanted for war crimes!” she gasps.
“That stuff never sticks,” Aladeen assures her cheekily.
The Dictator delights and disturbs, careening from razor sharp satire to a Monty Python-esque birthing scene, shot through the dilating cervix of the expectant mother (Kathryn Hahn).
If you judge Charles’s film based on the number of belly laughs it packs into 83 minutes and ignore the occasional lulls, it’s a rousing success.
Some gags are so jaw-droppingly offensive, you can feel the oxygen being sucked out of the cinema, such as when Aladeen excitedly plays the Munich Olympics level of his Wii Terrorist 2K12 video game and guns down helpless Israeli athletes.
Faint hearts beware.