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‘Borat’ sequel make glorious benefit Sacha Baron Cohen

October 26, 2020
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It’s always interesting when a years-later sequel pops up. The results have certainly been mixed, with the unqualified success rate for these sorts of projects being fairly low. We’ve seen some that had some moments, but for the most part, dusting off old films – particularly comedies – to try and revisit their stories hasn’t really worked.

This brings us to “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Deliver of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” – henceforth to be called simply “Borat 2” – the new project from comedic auteur Sacha Baron Cohen, currently streaming via Amazon Prime Video. The sequel to 2006’s “Borat,” this new film came to be in a vastly different American environment than its predecessor, but Cohen’s incisive and bizarre wit still plays, albeit with a different energy than before.

While it’s more successful than many other years-late sequels, it also can’t quite reach the bar of satiric absurdity set by that first film. Not that there’s any shame in that – “Borat” is a top-tier piece of social satire and transgressive comedy. The fact that this new offering even gets close is plenty impressive. Cohen holds up a mirror to American culture, but the warped reflection we see is simply an accurate depiction of who and what we are in this moment. It’s not a funhouse mirror, folks. We’re the funhouse.

Borat (Cohen) has been in a Kazakh prison for the past 14 years, a punishment for the humiliation caused by his disastrous trip to America. However, he’s about to get something he never could have expected – a second chance. He is enlisted to return to America so that he might deliver a “gift” to the country’s leader. Said gift is Johnny the Monkey, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture (who is, yes, an actual monkey). However, Borat can’t approach President Trump due to his pooping in the landscaping of a Trump property during his last visit, so the decision is made to give Johnny the Monkey to Mike Pence.

Borat returns home to share the news with his family, but they have been stolen by his neighbor, leaving him with nothing – though he does meet his 15-year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova, “Last Call”) for the first time. Tutar wants to go with him, but Borat refuses; instead, he boards a freighter with little more than a suitcase and a giant monkey crate, taking a circuitous journey to America. Ultimately, he lands in the port at Galveston, Texas, where he discovers that 1) he is still something of a celebrity here, and 2) Tutar has stowed away in the crate so that she can join her father on his adventure.

And oh what an adventure it is, one that crisscrosses the country. Borat purchases several disguises in order to keep from being identified and then, well … you know how it goes. The surprises are the best part, so there’s no need to go too far into specifics. Borat and Tutar wind up visiting debutante balls and plastic surgeons and faith-based pregnancy support services. We see political rallies and QAnon believers and the like. All of it serving to illustrate just how weird and dysfunctional our society has become while also offering a few glimpses of individuals driven by goodness and good sense.

(And yes, we see the now-infamous segment with Rudy Giuliani. You’ve probably heard all about it by now, and I won’t be the one to tell you if you haven’t. Suffice it to say that it’s neither as prurient as one side would have you believe nor as innocent as the other would have you believe, at least in my opinion. Your mileage may vary.)

Look, “Borat 2” was never going to land like the original. The under-the-radar nature of the character the first time around allowed for a much wider range of unfettered honesty from the film’s participants; you simply can’t pull off the same thing twice. Even 14 years later, it’s a character who remains in the cultural consciousness. The element of surprise is much diminished.

That doesn’t mean it’s a failure, though. Cohen’s brilliance has always been his ability to cultivate otherness and use it as a way to get others to lower their defenses, to show us what they are like when the mask slips. And while he can’t do it as easily himself, he has the benefit of an excellent partner in crime to fill in the gaps. So no, this new film doesn’t land quite as solidly as the last one, but it still gets in some pretty good shots along the way.

It really boils down to fearlessness. Essentially, this film does not work without the willingness of all involved to push things right to the edge … and then just keep on going. That’s a Cohen specialty, that devil-may-care commitment to the bit at the expense of all else, up to and including his own personal safety. His utter comfort with the character he has built helps as well, allowing him to remain utterly buried within his absurd creation no matter what happens.

Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the performance given by Bakalova as Tutar. She matches Cohen’s commitment beat for beat and note for note, going just as big and just as hard as the more experienced performer. She gleefully and wantonly doubles and triples down whenever necessary, allowing the bits to play out to an even more shocking and often hilarious degree.

Some of the segments work better than others, with a couple falling a bit flat. However, the majority of the film clicks, producing plenty of the sort of squirmy, cringe-inducing moments that are Cohen’s stock-in-trade. This is director Jason Woliner’s first feature, but his previous TV work certainly shows some subversive comedic bona fides (“The Last Man on Earth,” “W/Bob & Dave,” “Eagleheart”); he’s more than able to hang here.

“Borat 2” is an uneven film, with some misfiring lows to accompany the hilarious highs. However, there are far more of the latter than the former. Cohen’s work isn’t for everyone, but it’s tough to deny that he has a unique knack for illustrating the idiosyncrasies, ideologies and, yes, idiocies of the current cultural climate.

All in all – very nice.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 26 October 2020 10:45

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