Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) celebrates with his neighbors in Kazakhstan his planned visit to America in ’Borat’ from 20th Century Fox.mct photo
“Borat” is a funny movie. You’ll hate yourself for laughing at it.
A product of the twisted but fertile mind of Brit comic Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat” purports to be a documentary made by Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev while on a fact-finding tour of America. The film’s full title, in fact, is “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
Borat, for those who have missed him on Cohen’s HBO comedy series, is a toothy, moustachioed chap who happily embraces political incorrectness while mangling the English language in ever more creative ways.
The film starts out in Borat’s native town, where our protagonist proudly gives us the royal tour, introducing us to the village rapist and Borat’s sister, the local prostitute. We get a glimpse of the burg’s big festival, the Running of the Jew. Kazakhs, it seems, fear Hebrews the way Transylvanians fear vampires.
(The government of Kazakhstan has expressed its outrage at the film’s depiction of its citizenry. Objections noted.)
Then it’s off to New York City where Borat’s Fourth World lack of sophistication gets a workout. He starts unpacking his luggage in the hotel elevator (Borat is thrilled to discover his actual quarters are much roomier), launders his undies in a pond in Central Park and inadvertently allows a live chicken to escape from his handbag during a subway ride.
Apparently Cohen stayed in character nearly 24 hours a day while making this improvisational movie, which means that anybody he encounters may be fodder for his comic improvisations. Typically he will introduce himself to unsuspecting Americans as a foreign journalist (that accounts for the film crew trailing him) and create outlandish situations.
This deception at the heart of Cohen’s method gives “Borat” an astonishingly high squirm factor. You’ll be torn between roaring with laughter and wincing at the discomfort of Cohen’s victims.
Thus we find a group of feminists sitting down to be interviewed by Borat, only to watch them storm off when he expresses his own Neanderthal notions of sexual parity.
More satisfying is the rodeo promoter who allows Borat to sing the national anthem (making us long for the days of Roseanne) and who happily matches the visitor’s every homophobic and anti-Arab comment with one of his own. Or the boorish frat guys in a motor home who represent the very worst of beer-besotted American youths.
Even the famous fall for Cohen’s suckerpunch. Borat lands interviews with conservative commentator and political candidate Alan Keyes and with former Congressman and now conservative radio host Bob Barr.
At one point Borat gets “converted” while attending a Pentacostal service at a Southern megachurch, where the congregants are genuinely gratified that this stranger in their midst has been saved. It could be the single most cynical moment ever captured on film.
“Borat” is essentially a collection of comic encounters held together by the thinnest of plots. On his first night in America Borat watches a “Baywatch” rerun and falls madly in love with Pamela Anderson. He decides to travel across America (all he can afford is a decommissioned ice cream truck) to meet “PAH-mella.”
“I want to hold her in my arms and make the love explosion on her stomach,” our lovesick hero confides to his producer, the obese, bearded Azamat (Ken Davitian).
Later Borat and Azamat fight over Borat’s obsession, leading to a nude wrestling match that spills out of their room, down the hall and into the hotel ballroom where an astonished group of businessmen and their wives will find it difficult to digest that evening’s rubber chicken.
Finally Borat crashes one of Anderson’s book signings, attempting to stuff the starlet into a large pillowcase. I find it hard to believe that Anderson — who travels with several musclebound bodyguards — wasn’t in on the joke. On the other hand, if she’s acting her convincing display of panic and fear represents the finest work of her career.
“Borat” will offend as many as it delights. It’s practically a litmus-test for thick-skinnedness.
It’s also one of the funniest movies ever made.
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen and Ken Davitian
Directed by: Larry Charles
Rated: R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, including graphic nudity, and language.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes