BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN
Anyone who doesn't know who clueless, anti-Semitic and sexist Borat Sagdiyev is by now has obviously been in a coma for the past two months or so. The occasionally inspired creation of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat seems to have been put on Earth to mess with the heads of all sorts of people, from drunken frat boys to sober feminists and everyone in between. But the character--an English-mangling TV journalist from Kazakhstan--also has a mighty short shelf life. He's funny enough in sketch form, but dragged out to feature length, creator Baron Cohen doesn't seem to know what to do with him, and winds up picking on too many easy targets.
Borat the movie starts out with our boy back home, introducing us to the folks in his obviously poverty-stricken village, and throwing in all sorts of not terribly funny Third World clichés (the prostitute sister, severely retarded brother, etc.). Then it swiftly moves to America, where Borat has gone with his producer friend Azamat (Ken Davitian) to make a documentary about the world's greatest power.
Once in Manhattan, Borat is seen attempting to bestow friendly kisses on strangers in subways and on the street (in response, more than one New Yorker threatens him with violence), getting coached in how to tell a joke, American-style, and offending a group of feminists with his sexist mentality.
But Borat soon leaves New York on a cross-country trip to find the love of his life, Pamela Anderson, whom he has fallen for after watching an episode of "Baywatch." Driving a rickety old ice cream truck, he and Azamat run through a series of unscripted, guerrilla-style encounters with a wide range of Americans, all of whom are led to believe that Borat is the real deal. There's the homophobic and racist rodeo manager, who tells Borat to shave his mustache so he'll look less like a Muslim and more like an "Eye-talian." There are the Southern epicures who invite Borat to a gourmet meal, only to have the Kazakh bring along a hooker as his guest. Victims include drunken frat boys, gun store owners ("What is the best gun to use to kill a Jew?" asks Borat), antiques dealers; there's even a Jewish couple who run a B&B which Borat inadvertently stays in, only to fear for his life when he realizes what their religion is.
Some of this is undoubtedly funny. The Jewish B&B sequence is a particular hoot, as is a very gross, but truly hysterical, nude wrestling match between hairy Borat and obese Azamat. The problem, though, is that too much of the material is like shooting fish in a barrel. Clueless racists? Idiot frat boys? Self-absorbed feminists? Not exactly new targets, nor particularly interesting ones.
In creating Borat, Baron Cohen had a basically clever idea. A sort of post-modern Candide, Borat exposes prejudices and narrow world views through his interactions with unwitting Americans. Occasionally, this leads to some inspired, and enlightening, exchanges. But after a while, the gaggle of idiots, creeps and stuffed shirts Borat comes in contact with becomes repetitive. There's only so much you can get out of this material. And it's territory that's been worked over by more groundbreaking comics than Baron Cohen, true innovators like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Chris Rock. Because of this, Borat certainly has its moments, but they're fleeting and ultimately not particularly edifying.
Chadwick Boseman is sensational in this multi-faceted portrait of troubled, pioneering soul-music giant James Brown. More »
» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.
ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION
Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.
Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.