BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM ½
2020, R, 91 mins.
Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev / Maria Bakalova as Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev / Mike Pence as Self / Rudolph Giuliani as Self / Judith Dim Evans as SelfDirected by Jason Woliner / Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, and Dan Swimer
It makes perfect sense that the sequel to 2006's - takes deep breath - BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KHAZAKHSTAN crept up on an unsuspecting movie world without much notice, which kind of reflects the go-for-broke and throw caution to the wind comic bravery of its star, writer and producer in Sacha Baron Cohen.
Rumors were circulating online several weeks ago that Cohen shot
this follow-up film in secret (both prior to and during our current
pandemic) before finally releasing it to a surprised world just in time
for the U.S. presidential election. Much
like its masterfully satiric predecessor - BORAT - takes deep breath - SUBSEQUENT
MOVIEFILM: DELIVERY OF PRODIGIOUS BRIBE TO AMERICAN REGIME FOR MAKE
BENEFIT ONCE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN, this new entry confidently and hysterically
continues the misadventures of the fictional Kazakhstan journalist and TV
personality that hopes to expose the rampant stupidity (and some would say
madness) of everyday American life.
To be fair, no
sequel would ever capture the first BORAT film's lightning in a bottle
freshness in the same manner again, nor would it contain the same shock
and awe social-cultural impact. Comedy
sequels in general rarely work, let alone zeitgeist re-defining comedy
mockumentary sequels. BORAT SUBSEQUENT
MOVIEFILM (I'll be mercifully using that abbreviated title moving forward)
might not be the gasp-inducing original that was BORAT 1, not to mention
that some of the humor borders more on tasteless than true cutting satire, but
Cohen is still an awfully audacious ringmaster here at thrusting his
bumbling doofus through one truth is stranger than fiction vignette in the
heartland of America after another. And
like the great on-screen comedians, he'll trying anything for a laugh.
The core concept premise is also lovingly preserved here too: A
hopelessly clueless foreigner exposes even more rampantly foolish behavior
in his interview targets, with the latter usually doing most of the work
of inadvertently embarrassing themselves in the process. Sometimes, the behaviors that Cohen's Borat exposes teeters
unnervingly towards toxically nauseating, especially when it comes to the
seedier aspects of misogamy and racism and how that fosters the sharp
political divide in the U.S., but I guess that what makes watching these
films akin to observing a mass accident on the road: You feel awkward and
bad for watching, but are nevertheless transfixed on what's happening...or
about to happen.
MOVIEFILM opens with a refresher prologue that explains what happened to
the titular newsman since the last film, during which time we learn that
his prior documentary has made his home nation the pathetic butt of worldwide
jokes. This resulted in Borat
being thrown into the Gulag for life and sentenced to hard labor.
His jail time has all but made his own family despise him (hell,
even his own son, it's uproariously revealed, changed his name to Jeffrey
Epstein to become more reputably segregated from his infamy).
However, the mockumentary gods have spoken and Borat is given a
most glorious second chance by his government to make up for the sins of
his last film (granted, you'd think that a decade-plus in a hellish prison
would make his societal debt for making a bad movie all but repaid).
He's asked to return to America and have a special meet-up with
current Vice President Mike Pence and offer him a very special bribe...in
the form of a monkey.
Borat takes to the offer with a newfound zeal, but
he soon discovers to his horror upon arriving in America that his
prized chimp gift to Pence has died on route.
The plucky Borat
pulls himself up and decides to offer up an even better bribe to the
second most powerful man in the country: his 15-year-old daughter in Tutar
(Maria Bakalova, a great new find), who secretly stowed away on her dad's vessel.
When she hears of Borat's plan she responds with naive optimism
("I'm going to be the next Queen Melania!").
Borat does face many uphill battles on his mission (on top of the
difficult one of trying to arrange a meeting with the nation's VP),
most obviously being that he's a lot more famous and recognizable to
Americans now than he was back in 2006.
This forces him to concoct many amusing and painfully obvious
looking disguises to fool street onlookers (the meta quality here is
readily apparent with Cohen playing a bogus reporter who, in turn, sports
bogus costumes to conceal his identity). It was also a wise creative move on Cohen's part to give Borat
a family sidekick character to play off of here, and Tutar's equally
misguided daughter is the source of many of the film's best
fish-out-of-water humor. Firstly
and upon arrival in the U.S., Tutar is essentially a feral prisoner to
her dad (but she still loves the lug), but Borat realizes the need to
clean her up, which leads towards sequences of them visiting style,
etiquette and social media coaches, as well as a plastic surgeon's office
that alarmingly never once seems to question a strange adult male wanting
to get his teen daughter's breasts enlarged.
Again, it's ultra
cringe worthy scenes like that where BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM is in its
comedic wheelhouse in terms of letting these interview suspects and
passersby make themselves looks like complete fools.
The main difference this go around is that Borat (and Cohen) are
much older and more well known in the world, which leads to some creative
challenges in terms of where to take this character to the next logical
extreme. And like a four star
General of mischief, Cohen hurtles his now iconic role into countless new
politically incorrect scenarios that you almost feel ashamed for laughing
so hard at them. Some of the
darker gags are fleeting (like archival file footage that shows the
devastating impact that Borat's first film had on his home country,
leading to a stockbroker throwing himself off of Kazakhstan's highest
building...a two floor office dwelling).
There's an inspired bit with the disguised Borat learning about
"Americans fascination with pocket calculators" while in a cell
phone store (he learns how easy it is to Google search pornography, much
to the clerk's dismay). One
outrageous stunt shows just how much raw nerve Cohen has as a grade-A shit
disturber. He arrives at the
Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre in Maryland (home to a
Republican convention featuring Pence himself), all dressed as a KKK
member. When that fails,
Borat claims he's Stephen Miller. When
that disguise fails, he dons a grotesque full body suit
costume of President Trump and storms the convention floor.
This whole sequence starts off with the rage inducing claim of
Pence on stage that - at the time - America has just 15 cases of COVID-19
and that the risk is low moving forward for all Americans. Wow.
There are two
other extended moments in the film that are telling.
The first involves Borat's struggles to legally purchase a gun to
kill himself out of petty mission failure.
"Since I did not have money to buy a gun,” he narrates, “I
went to the nearest synagogue to wait for the next mass shooting,
disguised as a typical Jew.” He then arrives in a horribly offensive looking Jewish get-up
that plays up to all of the nastiest visual stereotypes of them.
What happens next is kind of surprisingly tender.
Two Jewish elders kindly let the disguised Borat in and kill
him...with kindness ("I'm an old, good woman," one softly
explains to him). With his
eyes newly opened as to the goodness of the Jewish people, Borat decides
to stay alive and pursue his mission with his daughter.
Then COVID stops the country in its tracks,
which then forces Borat to quarantine with a couple of right wing
conservative hillbilly nutjobs that believe that the Clintons are pure
evil. Everything builds to
the film's most well publicized, outed, and infamous scene, which involves
the newly made-over Tutar scoring an interview with Trump's long-time
lawyer/friend Rudy Giuliani. Sickeningly,
the elderly former New York mayor starts flirting with Tutar (he's aware
that she's 15, even though he's unaware that she's played by a 24-year-old
actress). "I'll relax
you," he tells her at one point.
Things proceed into the bedroom after the interview where he asks
for her name and phone number. Thankfully,
Borat (in another hilariously phony disguise) smashes into the room to
save the day.
Giuliani has taken great pains to publicly explain his side of these events (granted, being caught red handed in a hotel bedroom with an underage reporter - even a fake one - and asking for her personal contact information doesn't look good regardless). Perhaps just as scandalous is Giuliani revealing his belief in the interview that China made the virus and deliberately let it loose all over the world. There was lots of outrage in Kazakhstan about its less than favorable portrayal by Cohen and company in the first BORAT, but the few sequences in that installment and now this one are played so over the top and broad that you'd have to be a fool to take them literally. And, yes, Kazakhstan looks bad in these BORAT films, but that country seems to get a slap on the wrist compared to the scathing and incendiary commentary that Cohen makes about the worst socio-political aspects of contemporary America, especially now under Trump's watch. That's the true heart of comic darkness at play in BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM. As mentioned earlier, some of the material contained within maybe too obscenely crass for most tastes (one scene showcasing Borat and Tutar attending a deep South debutante ball and engaging in a ceremonial dance that graphically reveals her menstruating is case in point). Then there are other times when Cohen's satire is about as subtle of a steel toed work boot kick to the cranium. BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM isn't BORAT 1's equal (that much is certain), but it still successfully shows Cohen as one of the most fearlessly determined on-screen agitators of the cinema. If this sequel were to have any concrete message then it would be simply that America hasn't improved since Mr. Sagdiyev's last foray into it, it's gotten worse. God help us all.