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Review: Borat makes America look silly again

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 22, 2020

By Michael O’Sullivan Washington Post

Are you simultaneously sick of and addicted to the daily drumbeat of bad news? All those stories about the politicization of mask wearing? About the latest coronavirus misinformation to seep out of the White House, a White House whose current occupant seems to tacitly (if not explicitly) sanction white supremacy and anti-Semitism; who has boasted about the sexual assault of women; and who uses social media to play on fears and ignorance as a tool of division?

Could you use a good laugh? Then have I got a movie for you.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” – the sequel to the 2006 hit comedy starring Sacha Baron Cohen as an inept Kazakh journalist traveling across America in a series of “gotcha” skits poking fun at and punking our own stupidity – traffics in all those horrible things and more, but with the added bonus that it’s funny.

It’s also, at times, sniggeringly puerile, head spinning in what Cohen gets away with and fueled by an anger that gives even its silliest bits a bite that draws blood, leaving a sting on the psyche that smarts long after the closing credits. It’s a comedy of outrage and horror that elicits laughter not as a cure for what ails us, or even a temporary balm, but a close cousin of the feeling you get – sharp pain, followed by relief – when a Band-Aid has been ripped off an open wound.

You’ll laugh. You’ll moan. You’ll shake your head in disbelief – especially at a scene, late in the film, that features a shudderingly embarrassing interview and post-interview encounter with a top associate of President Donald Trump. As he did in his comedy show “Who Is America?,” Cohen, assisted by his stable of co-screenwriters, has a genius for leveraging the vanity of his non-actor victims to entice them to step, willingly, onto his cleverly camouflaged comedy land mines. The results aren’t pretty, but they can deliver lessons (or maybe “warnings” is a better word) amid the carnage.

When we first meet Cohen’s Borat Sagdiyev in the film’s prologue, he’s been reprieved from a sentence of hard labor in a gulag for making a laughingstock of Kazakhstan in the first film. If he can deliver a monkey to Vice President Mike Pence – an attempt by the Kazakh government to curry favor – all will be forgiven.

The flip side of creating a global laughingstock, of course, is that here in the States, Borat is instantly recognizable to fans of the 2006 film. This entails Cohen adding a few more goofy disguises to his repertoire – although he does still manage to move into the home of two Trump-supporting men who apparently don’t get out much.

The head-in-the-sand cluelessness of some of the intended butts of his jokes is astonishing. These include a dim Instagram influencer, an earnest debutante coach, a mortified Christian pregnancy counselor and a savvy babysitter who turns out to be the heroine of the film and its moral center.

In the last movie, Borat was accompanied on his mission of mischief by his “producer” Azamat (Ken Davitian); Azamat’s ignominious fate is discovered early in the new movie, and it’s one of the R-rated comedy’s first belly laugh/groans. Here, Borat is paired with his 15-year-old daughter (Maria Bakalova), who has smuggled herself to America in the monkey’s crate. This enables a lot of jokes centered on the subjugation of women. They grow tedious after a while, but the film redeems itself in the end with a message of, yes, female empowerment.

Is Cohen’s brand of “Candid Camera” the “moviefilm” we need right now? Only time will tell. In the 14 years since the original was released, things have only gotten worse. This is great news for Cohen’s brand of corrosive comedy but a terrible state of affairs for the human race.

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