Sacha Baron Cohen reprises his most popular character with mixed results
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (hereafter Borat 2) brings Sacha Baron Cohen’s best-known creation back for another look at America’s ugly underbelly. Only now, the cat’s out of the bag for both America and Cohen. Everything Borat cast a light on in 2006 now lives in broad daylight and people recognize Borat on the street, which means Cohen has to dig deeper both with the character and the film’s approach in order to catch lightning again. Cohen and his team figure out how to get the most out of the character, but struggle to find a story worth telling. It’s not as simple as saying the Borat schtick has run thin, Borat 2’s problems run deeper than that.
Borat 2 kicks off with Borat in prison, sentenced to a life of hard labor, receiving a lifeline from the Kazakhstan government. Once again, he is sent to America with the intent of delivering a gift to Vice President Mike Pence. That gift is Borat’s own daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova). With that, father and daughter set off on their cross country journey. Like Borat’s first trek across the land of the free, their meetings with unsuspecting marks are full of casual misogyny and anti-semitic jokes. But, where the first film featured people more willing to embarrass themselves on camera, the everyday people in Borat 2 don’t take the bait so easily. There are even some moments where it feels like people are knowingly playing along with Borat. More accurately, many of the everyday people featured convey a sense that they know they’re being set up, so many of these interludes grow tedious as Cohen and Bakalova do everything they can to wring reactions out of people.
Shot earlier this year, Borat 2 also has to contend with America during an election year and a pandemic. The film doesn’t really have anything of note to say about COVID-19, mainly because there are no jokes that are on par with the nation’s actual response. As for the election, Borat 2 finds nominal success. The already viral segment with America’s Mayor-turned-national-disgrace Rudy Guliani is the film’s highlight, not because it’s so extraordinary from a comedic or real-life perspective. No, we all know that Guiliani is a ghoul who has publicly debased himself to curry favor with the president. The note that came with the screener asked that major plot points not be revealed, so just google it if you don’t know what Guliani did on camera. Like many of the salacious stories that ooze out of this current administration, the segment lands with the realization that Guliani should face consequences but he won’t. And so it goes.
Do we need another Borat movie? Fourteen years ago after Sacha Baron Cohen took grey suit wearing Kazakh journalist from the cult of Da Ali G Show fans to the mainstream with Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The movie was a juggernaut, capturing the box office and zeitgeist in a way most movies can’t even imagine. In the midst of bro-comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers, and Dane Cook’s run of romcoms, Borat was a unicorn, a confrontational and needling unicorn that jabbed in its horn into both its easy mark subjects and its complacent, “I would never fall for that” viewers. It felt dangerous. When Borat sings the Kazakh national anthem at a Virginia rodeo, there’s a tangible sense of concern for Cohen’s safety. That scene is repurposed here and everything about it is so unsurprising and banal. There is no danger here, other than the shots of people in close quarters without masks.
Borat relies on a nostalgic itch that it can’t scratch. As I sat in front of my laptop watching in silence, I couldn’t help letting my mind wonder back to better times. Watching Borat in a packed theater is one of my favorite movie-going experiences. The energy bouncing between the audience and the screen with each set piece was downright magical. There’s a joke in Borat that made me laugh harder and longer than any other movie has ever pulled out of me. Throughout Borat 2 the only thing I wanted was to be watching it in a theater where the laughter could be infectious (sorry). The points Borat 2 is chasing is like a dog chasing its tail. They’re obvious and smacking you in the face, and if you catch the tail, what good does it do you? Any way, the movie ends with a note about making sure you vote, and it’s the most effective bit in all of Borat 2.
Borat 2 is now available on Amazon Prime.