aka BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN
Movie Review by Toby White
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, Alex Daniels
Director: Larry Charles
Borat is bold. Borat has balls. Borat is…a bit over the top, to be honest. If you don’t know him, he’s a humble TV presenter from Kazakhstan assigned by his government to journey to the United States and pick up some “cultural learnings” to bring back to his country. While he’s there, one lonely night in his Manhattan hotel room he chances upon a re-run of BAYWATCH and falls in love with Pamela Anderson whereupon his quest takes a whole different turn. Sounds rather sweet, really. Except this character, a creation of TV sketch staple Sacha Baron Cohen (along with Ali G and Bruno), takes caricature to an entirely different level. For Borat’s humility is accompanied by a social ignorance so profound that the situations he finds himself in take schadenfreude into the stratosphere. You don’t so much as laugh at his expense, or even misfortune, but pity the man.
Cringe-worthy comedy is nothing new and for the last few years it seems to have become vogue to push the boundaries as far as possible, those boundaries even extending to the literal edges of the size of the screen on which you watch it as this seemingly harmless chap lurches at you as an 8ft high moustachioed ogre. “But in this PC restricted nanny state culture we live in today, shouldn’t we lap up this breath of fresh air?” I hear you cry. Well, yes, and any critic worth his salt should be steeled against ‘poor taste’ and be open to all things. But the trouble with BORAT is that which befalls nigh on every TV show adaptation of this ilk for the big screen: the threat of the one-trick pony. While BORAT manages to avoid that – only a couple of gags from the TV series are recognisable – it has been done at the expense of the aforementioned boundaries as it tries to thread a story around a sequence of set-pieces bigger and bolder than anything the subtlety (if there was any) of the TV show managed. Consequently, there are scenes in the film that go so past the laughter threshold they cross into the level of ‘simply stunned’; take “the running of the Jew” (okay, Baron Cohen is Jewish himself and self-deprecating Jewish humour is nothing new) but this was, frankly, pointless. Still, if it’s shocking he was after, then that’s what he got if the nervous laughter in the screening I was in was anything to go by: “Should we be laughing at Jew-baiting?” “No, it’s okay, it’s the double-irony. Think Dave Chappelle in the States.”
But ignoring the shock factor for a moment, imagine we live in a tolerant, multi-cultured society – no, no, hear me out – in which no one could be offended by/for anything…it’s not actually that great a movie. For all the publicity and early press surrounding this film, I can’t help but think it’s a case of THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES. It’s definitely a step away from ALI G IN DA HOUSE as it’s not a straight narrative piece but, irritatingly, it slips in and out of its supposed single camera documentary style to be slightly off-putting, you’re not really hooked into any story to speak of and the watchability comes simply from the anticipation of what the next outrageous scene might be.
You could argue it’s a fascinating satire on cultural differences. You could also argue the merits of the irony that he might select America for some “cultural learnings”, being the pantheon of culture the States is. (Ha ha. Did you get that joke?) And, as ridiculous as most of it is, of course there are moments that are that repulsive they’re funny (the naked fight between Borat and his manager is inspired and assaulting Pamela Anderson gets major points for daring). But, in the main, strip away the “offensive” and “controversial” and “oversteps the mark” remarks and what you have is an “okay” film.