Sacha Baron Cohen's film career got off to a rocky start with Ali G Indahouse, but since the box office success of Borat in 2006 the Brit comic hasn't looked back. His latest film shuns the mock documentary style of its predecessors in favour of a more straightforward narrative arc as it zeroes in on Wadiyan tyrant Admiral General Aladeen.
The African ruler finds himself hauled in front of the United Nations as the West seeks to enforce a democracy on his homeland. Things quickly take a turn for the worse, though, when he's abducted by John C Reilly's psycho security man and shorn of his beloved beard. Aladeen escapes, but democratic reform is already in motion as his devious deputy (Sir Ben Kingsley doing the villain routine) agrees to carve up Wadiya's oil reserves for a hefty personal reward and sends a double to seal the deal.
What follows is a culture clash comedy with a strong dash of rom-com as Aladeen adopts the name Alison Burgers and lands a job working at hippy chick Zoey's (Anna Faris) organic supermarket.
There's a severed head, a masturbatory hallucination and a mid-air 9/11 terrorism gag to provide chucklesome comedy, while a scene in which Aladeen and Zoey have to deliver a baby will prompt squirms and laughs in equal measure. There's plenty of farcical slapstick, too, such as a botched attempt to zip-line between skyscrapers and physical violence against a bratty child.
The movie is never as relentlessly funny as Borat (jokes with Megan Fox and Edward Norton miss the mark), yet it packs a sharp satirical edge that's almost unprecedented for a mainstream studio-funded Hollywood comedy. At one point, Aladeen fires off a speech that hammers home the similarities between democratic and dictatorial regimes. It's a brilliant moment, and one that drew an emphatic round of applause from the audience at the film's UK premiere this evening.
The Dictator perhaps spends a little too much time revisiting the same fish-out-of-water scenarios expertly mined by Borat, but it's a more satisfying all-round comedy than the uneven Bruno. Cohen's great skill is in creating sympathetic characters out of dimwitted and ignorant men. In Aladeen's case, he strips him of power in order to make his journey back to the top all the more engaging.
By the end he may not have experienced the complete Eat Pray Love-style spiritual overhaul he claims, but over the course of The Dictator's fleeting yet funny 82 minutes, Aladeen at least emerges as a more caring and sensitive despot.
Photo gallery - The Dictator world premiere in pictures