Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Sacha Baron Cohen returns with another askance look at America from the point of view of the idiotic Kazakhstani reporter Borat. The resulting satire is often sharp and explosive, but there are some misfires too
Feature film production tends to be too slow to harpoon the subjects of its derision in a timely fashion; the best we can usually hope for is lampooning in hindsight. Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is a tad more fleet-footed.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s resurrection of his guileless Kazakhstani reporter Borat Sagdiyev – a grey-suited buffoon whose own ignorance brings out the stupidity and bigotry of everyone he encounters – practically arrives in real-time. Shot in the US during the country’s first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it feels urgent, with up-to-date references on recent Republican arrest sheets and the latest COVID-19 conspiracy theories, but this urgency doesn’t always translate to coherence or freshness.
We discover that Borat’s last trip to the US caused such embarrassment to Kazakhstan that it landed him in a gulag for crimes against the state. As the film opens, though, he’s been given a reprieve: Kazakhstan’s Premiere wants Borat to woo the Trump administration so he can join the President’s BFF group alongside the like of Vladimir Putin and Kin Jong-un.
Borat’s plan is to ingratiate himself with Mike “Ladies Man” Pence by giving him a special gift: his 15 year-old daughter Tutar (newcomer Maria Bakalova), who to Borat’s shame is the oldest unmarried woman in Kazakhstan. The girl is thrilled at the prospect (“I will be the new Queen Melania!”) but her father needs to give her a makeover first. Much of the film’s plot – if we can call it that – revolves around this twisted father-daughter pygmalion story, which features some of the film’s sharpest setpieces (a non-sequitur purchase of an anti-Semitic cake leads to a jaw-dropping visit to an anti-abortion clinic) and its most outrageously hilarious (a father-daughter fertility dance at a debutante ball).
As with the first film, scripted interactions sit side-by-side with improvised scenes featuring everyday Americans (as well as a couple of very famous ones) who’ve been duped into being part of the film. This is where the real fireworks are, but unfortunately they do not always go off at their intended targets. A couple of QAnon conspiracy nuts turn out to be pretty nice guys, taking Borat in for the night, while a room full of middle-aged Republican women don’t come off too badly either when Tutar stands up to give a speech on the joys of touching her "vagin", which she’s just discovered doesn’t have teeth, contrary to what she was taught growing up in Kazakhstan.
These persistent misfires means that Subsequent Moviefilm isn’t as relentlessly hilarious as its 2006 predecessor, but then few films in the past 14 years can claim that. It tends to drag in the early sections, and the pandemic – combined with Cohan’s global stardom due to the success of the first movie – surely accounts for the reduced number of satisfying interactions Borat has with the general public.
Cohen’s two ballsiest stunts involve major players in the Trump regime and are explosive, although the scenes may have landed even harder if they had been shot and edited with anything close to spatial coherence. In one, Tutar is trussed up like a turkey and offered up as a gift to a man in power while in the other, she’s bait for a creep former mayor who, if he had any shame, would retire from public life after this appearance.
These aren't the only moments in the film where Tutar is subjected to lecherous male attention. A southern gent suggests he’d pay $500 for a night with her while his own daughter looks on appalled, and a horny plastic surgeon confesses he’d happily sleep with the 15-year-old if her daddy wasn’t in the room.
If it hadn't already been clear from the film’s numerous references to Jeffrey Epstein and the visual image of Tutar living in a cage back in Kazakstan where she’s considered livestock, the abuse and subjugation of women emerges as Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm’s major theme. It’s appropriate then that Bakalova is given as much opportunity to shine in the movie as Cohen, her comic chops an equal match to his physical and improvisational genius.
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