Seeking meaning from a movie with a featured credit for a fecal provider might seem pointless. Yes, that sounds sick, but the exhilaratingly raw comedy in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan comes from a pointed look at social diseases.
Embodied by anyone else, clueless Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev would be a 150-pound goofball. As a character of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, he’s a 500-pound guerrilla running and gunning through a perfect 80-minute prank of political incorrectness that always feels real, even if its targets were carefully chosen or cleverly edited.
Borat’s collection of what is spelled out in the movie’s subtitle (a good joke in itself) allows Cohen to blend scatological and sociological humor with scathing screeds against xenophobia, homophobia and every other –ia you could find in America or, for that matter, the world.
Complaints against Borat abound that Southerners and frat boys are easy marks, but the film leaves no color, creed or social status un-mocked. Even Borat holds his own ridiculous prejudices against Jews, gypsies and Uzbeks, at whose embassy he flips the bird.
Bigotry will never go away. So when its temporary takedown is so savagely witty and wise, even those of us with the best intentions might as well furiously laugh at man’s inhumanity to man.
Borat has been all over the place lately, but his U.S. initiation began with HBO’s Da Ali G Show. (Cohen’s dim white rapper also had his own movie with more plot, and less laughs, than Borat) Borat is the greatest creation to break free from Cohen’s mad-scientist lab, a charming filter whose innocence allows him to prey upon the arrogance and ignorance he finds. Even those who’ve been shouting “Jagshemesh” for years will marvel at how far Borat goes on film, and trailer-spoiled bits aren’t the best in the movie, just merciful placeholders that let you catch your breath.
Pitched as a travelogue, Borat introduces the film with a brief glimpse at life in his Kazakhstan village, noted for a prizewinning population of prostitutes, a school with automatic-weapon training and the annual “running of the Jew.” An observant Jew in real life, Cohen is as unafraid to poke at our barbaric globbing-together of foreign lands as he is America’s perceived model-nation status.
Joined by his producer Azamat (Ken Davitian), Borat flies to the United States to gather American culture and improve Kazakhstan’s quality of life. Driving across the country in an ice-cream truck (all they can afford) and with a grizzly bear for protection, Borat and Azamat conduct improvised interviews with actual car dealers, gun salesmen, religious zealots and humor coaches.
Each segment, where the subjects inevitably become conversational deer in headlights, is funny to the point of nearly passing out, thanks to Cohen’s masterful concentration and fearlessly full commitment from a comedian who intentionally never washes his costume.
There will be no finer slapstick scene this year than Cohen’s intentionally destructive flailing in a Confederate memorabilia shop. Even his grown-out curly hair and mustache play a crucial role, when Borat is advised on how to look “less Muslim, more Italian.”
Bettering Kazakhstan almost becomes a tangent though, once Borat is struck by “Pa-mella” Anderson’s slo-mo runs in “red waterpanties” in a rerun of Baywatch. She becomes his obsession, the movie’s ostensible plot and the catalyst for a scene that’s a shockingly crude surprise. Let’s just say the actress drives a wedge between Borat and Azamat that will define the “graphic nudity” for which Borat is, in part, rated R.
It’s firmly commanded comedy when incorrect prepositions — Borat says “war of terror” to describe “mighty warlord Premier Bush’s” foreign policy — draw belly laughs. But it’s more than a broken English punchline when Borat says he’s going to the “U.S. and A.” There’s a split between how we want to be seen as the United States at its best and what at times can be America at our worst. Now that is sick, but it’s also made sickly funny in one of the funniest comedies ever made.