OK, now we know why Sacha Baron Cohen was monkeyshining Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence and an anti-mask rally earlier this year: for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, a.k.a. Borat 2 a.k.a. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The sequel to 2006’s uproarious satirical prankster pic Borat was quickly pieced together so Amazon Prime could release it prior to the election. “NOW VOTE OR YOU WILL BE EXECUTE,” reads an end title. No problem. But will the movie give us some much-needed laughs in this era of amplified anxiety?
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Not much has changed in (this fictional version of) Kazakhstan since the first Borat: It’s still a nation of anti-Semites living in dirt and lorded over by a putrid patriarchy and a leader who’s raging pissed because he’s not alongside Putin, Bolsonaro and Kim Jong-un in Donald Trump’s inner circle of fascist homies. Journalist-clown Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen) knows so much about America from his previous adventures, he’s obviously the only diplomat who can win Trump as an ally. So our hero is yanked from gulag imprisonment — for making Kazakhstan look like a nation of cretins in those previous adventures — and sent back to the U.S. to deliver a bribe to Mike Pence. Sounds air tight to me.
Their initial offering to the veep is a monkey, but when Borat opens the shipping crate, he finds his 15-year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) has not only stowed away, but eaten the monkey. Welp, I guess she’s the bribe fodder now, and of course, she has to be acclimated to American culture. That means getting a cell phone, buying a dress (Borat: “Where’s the ‘no means yes’ section?”), visiting a Christian “pregnancy crisis center,” consulting a debutante coach, etc. Borat is now famous in America because of his previous moviefilm, so in order to continue duping people — many of them racist idiots — he has to wear elaborate costumes to hide his irrepressibly recognizable Boratness.
Eventually, Borat gains access to the Conservative Political Access Conference by dressing in a KKK hood. He experiences the U.S. mid-COVID crisis, hangs out with some QAnon morons, crashes a rally stocked with gun-toting Confederate flag-wavers. Meanwhile, he forces Tutar to adhere to Kazakhstani norms for women, e.g., being trotted through a Texas fair on a leash, living in a cage, etc. Eventually, they realize that Giuliani might be ripe for a buttering-up, since he’s Trump’s personal lawyer, and also a high-order, top-shelf, unshakably eternal rube.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The Borat movies are pretty much their own distinct style of Jackassery.
Performance Worth Watching: Surprise — Bakalova is a comedy powerhouse. She may be just as shameless as Cohen, and probably more brave.
Memorable Dialogue: Borat: “I have a non-male son?”
Sex and Skin: This movie may test your endurance for grossout nudity. As expected.
Our Take: Of course this is a different America since the first Borat debuted. Hell, it’s a wildly different America compared to what it was a year ago. Some have deemed Cohen’s form of gotcha-punk’d comedy worthless when Trump-empowered people wear their racism, sexism and xenophobia on their sleeves — part of the shtick is his ability to draw the ugly subtext into the sunlight and let it burst into flames like a vampire. But I’d argue that the State of Things 2020 offers an even greater reason for Borat to go to work. Sure, we already know that people’s viewpoints are disgusting and made loud and pervasive by social media, but Cohen and Amazon Studios give racists another gigantic platform that’s not a safe-space superspreader rally, but rather, one that makes them look gullible and stupid.
That’s Borat 2 in concept, and on that level, the movie putts for par: The funniest stuff is enough to carry the film through its saggy parts. As is the case with Borat and Bruno, the quasi-guerilla filmmaking and improvisation renders a ramshackle narrative, and the new film appears to be flung together in a hurry, especially the COVID stuff. Its shaky through-line is the flowering relationship between Borat and Tutar, with the father learning that his daughter — and maybe even all women! — has a functioning brain and deserves love and respect and all that. Such are his “cultural learnings” this time around.
Much has been/will be made of the Giuliani and rally sequences, but others draw out the kindness of others, whether it’s a Black woman teaching Tutar how to empower herself or a store clerk patiently teaching the gormless Borat how to use Google on a smartphone. In that light, I have many pragmatic questions; it’s hard to tell what is and isn’t scripted, and maybe that’s part of the fun? (Notably, the Giuliani scene is very much not scripted, and probably the yuckiest scene in a very yucky movie. It also quietly shows us how easy it is to create a phony right-wing journalistic persona and fool a fool.) Of course, the more we laugh the more the movie achieves its goal, and the less we care about the hows and wherefores of its making. And you’ll laugh a fair amount, at Borat, at Tutar, and at the world we live in. Hell, one laugh is better than more crying.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Borat 2 isn’t as raucous and shocking as its predecessor — after all, it’s hard to follow up a classic. The current world can be disheartening and grotesque, for sure, but it’s far too cynical to say it’s beyond satire. And that’s how this movie scores a point or two for optimism.
Stream Borat Subsequent Moviefilm on Amazon Prime