A film review by Craig J. Koban November 6, 2020

BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM jjj

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 Self

Directed by Jason Woliner  /  Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, and Dan Swimer

ORIGINAL FILM

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. 

 

 

BORAT SUBSEQUENT 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.  Hindsight sucks. 

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. 

  H O M E