Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Reviewed By Todd LaPlace
Posted 11/04/06 23:06:20

"America the Misogynist"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

In much of the pre-release material I’ve seen on “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” there’s an image of Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) in a neon green “bathing suit.” Perhaps you’ve already seen it and perhaps you haven’t (in either case, just Google “Borat bathing suit” to see WAY too many pictures). It is an image that will probably forever haunt my dreams. I do, however, take a little comfort in knowing that something so very wrong is at least associated with something so very funny.

If you are one of the millions of members of MySpace, you probably fall into the ideal core audience for “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” You can tell because the home page has been plastered with images and videos of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character for what seems like weeks. At the same time, if you are one of the millions of members of MySpace, you probably fall into the category of people that are happy that “Borat” has finally been released, just so the obnoxious media blitz will finally end. I was sick of Borat long before I walked into that theater to watch his highly offensive trek across America. And so it is with much shame and regret that I’m forced to concede the truth; “Borat” is pretty damn funny.

“Borat” is not, however, nearly as wonderful as everyone wants you to believe it is. It seems weird to call what I’m rating as a four star movie overrated, but that’s precisely what it is. On the cover of its October 20 issue, Entertainment Weekly poses the question, “Has this man made the funniest movie ever or simply the most outrageous, offensive one?” Well, to be perfectly honest, neither. For all of its laugh-inducing moments — which begins by Borat introducing the town rapist with a sly “naughty naughty” — the film is actually just a well-made, but sophomoric, take on the mockumentary. It’s like “Best in Show” made by the producers of “Porkys.” To put it another way, for all of its witty stabs at the frequent stupidity of American culture and society, one of the end credits still reads, “Mr. Baron Cohen’s feces provided by.”

Plagued by a series of civil problems — “economic, social and Jew” — the Kazakh Ministry of Information has decided to send popular TV personality Borat to the United States to collect cultural secrets that will enhance the large, underdeveloped nation. In Kazakhstan, Borat’s neighbor is covetous of a clock radio, his ride to the airport is a car hitched to a horse, he boasts of his sister being the No. 4 prostitute in the country (and she’s got the trophy to prove it) and he covers the town’s annual festival, the “Running of the Jews” (which just as offensive and hilarious as it sounds). In America, Borat is very nearly assaulted on the New York subway system, he is told his mustache makes him look like a terrorist, he is told that the most effective gun for killing Jews is a Glock and he hitches a ride with some frat boys that, well, simply cannot be summed up in words. Wait, remind me again, which is the more backwards country again?

But while most of the offensive bits are all in good fun — FYI, Baron Cohen is actually Jewish — there is some legitimate danger that bigots could use this film to reinforce stereotypes. In his review, Jim Emerson (filling in on Roger Ebert’s Web site) points out that while the Anti-Defamation League acknowledges the joke, they point out that many of the worst offenders of the movie are supposedly real Americans. Emerson shrugs it off with a flippant, “if morons will find reinforcement for their bigotry in ‘Borat,’ then they’ll also find it in ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Deal or No Deal’ and ‘Riverdance,’ too,” but I think there is some genuine concern here. Assuming that over the course of three weeks, Borat randomly found people like the homophobic, anti-Muslim cowboy and the racist, sexist frat boys and that their scenes were not staged — and that’s a big assumption — I’d argue that such prejudice is still very rampant and such concern is still very genuine. For those of us in on the joke, the scenes are genuinely hilarious in their stupidity, but sadly it only takes one to undermine the comedy.

The question of vulgarity is obviously not a question at all — although it is an equal opportunity offender — but the real offense may be taking place behind the camera. As anyone who’s seen either Baron Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show” or director Larry Charles’ writing and directing work on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Entourage” or “Seinfeld” can tell you, the people behind this film are extremely talented, but with the exception of a few establishing and resolution scenes, nothing is supposedly scripted. But despite Charles’ claim that “it’s real,” is it really? A scene with Borat in an ice cream truck, a group of kids in a park and an angry bear in the back is clearly staged, as is a run-in between Borat and Pamela Anderson, the jiggly object of Borat’s affections (or are they?). But what about the frat boys (the true climax of the offensiveness)? Or what about the rodeo when Borat solicits applause from his increasingly bloodthirsty remarks about the Iraqi people? How about when Borat’s disastrous trip to an antique store to buy Pam a present? And what about the most priceless sequence of all, a balls-to-the-wall (mustache?) nude wrestling match between Borat and his obese producer Azamat (Ken Davitian)? I’d love to think it’s all real, but my instincts tell me too much of it is staged. That just makes me feel a little too dirty for laughing and enjoying myself so much.

There’s a line of dialogue in “Borat” that blames the Jews for the Sept. 11 attacks. It’s obviously meant to be funny, but in this world of Mel “I Heart Anti-Semitism” Gibson, I wonder how many people will actually miss the joke.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.