Monday, January 04, 2021

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

As a fan of the original Borat, I had high hopes for Sacha Baron Cohen's sequel. Back in 2006 his treatment of a US hollowed out by six years of Bush/Cheney assaults on social and political norms was inspired, the perfect response to what I thought was the worst thing that had ever happened to this country, certainly in my lifetime. But Trump and his accomplices, among other things, have made them all look like church deacons. The essential problem of lampooning the malevolent clown Donald Trump and his henchmen seems to have taken the edge off Cohen as well as most comics in this era. Is it any surprise that lip-synching Trump has become practically the most effective approach? Cohen's pranks are still good—often amazing both by how shockingly coarse they can be and simply by seeing him have the courage to say and do the things he does to the specific people he manages to rope in. The premise for the picture is that the Kazakh media journalist Borat has been in prison since 2006 for crimes against the state but is now released to carry out a special mission: deliver a gift to US VP Michael Pence to win favorable treatment for Kazakhstan by the US. The gift is Johnny the Monkey, a Kazakh porn star (and monkey). But the monkey dies in transit. Plan B then is to present Borat's 15-year-old daughter (Maria Bakalova, who is in her 20s and not Cohen's daughter), who stowed away on the journey. Father and daughter make appearances in Texas, Oklahoma, Washington state (Olympia!), New York City, and elsewhere, zeroing in on Pence and others. They gull low-grade celebrity types such as Instagram influencers and various Christianist grifters, who deserve the humiliation—and also innocent bystanders, such as a clerk at a faxing service place, who don't, but nonetheless serve as interesting barometers of social attitudes—as they work their way up to big stunts like storming the annual CPAC gathering of conservatives and, the one we've heard the most about, conducting an interview with Rudy Giuliani, whose behavior here is actually worse than the previews made it look. He plainly thinks he's about to get lucky with a 15-year-old girl—Bakalova has a convincing teen appearance and manner. The pranks are usually good, and there are some comedy bits that are not bad either (notably one featuring the Stealers Wheel chestnut, "Stuck in the Middle With You"). But too often the film drags with scenes between father and daughter playing on their pose of primitive sexist norms and/or showing innocent affection for one another. They don't work because Borat movies don't get their juice from their storylines, let alone feel-good moments designed to assure us of their good intentions and wholesomeness and that this is all a joke. Borat movies work best when Cohen sets up the pranks so that victims incriminate and embarrass themselves with a minimal amount of help from him. It just does not happen often enough in this one, but maybe in one-third of it scattered across its compact running time the pranks are working and make it worthwhile enough for me, once I got over the general disappointment of not enough and not that good. Cohen's targets always deserve everything they get and kudos to him for getting this out in October, not long before the US election.

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