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" I didn’t lover her cuz it was right... I just loved her. "
— Robert Redford, Horse Whisperer

MRQE Top Critic

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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is the cinematic equivalent of a nuclear missile aimed at the safe haven of political correctness. Unfortunately, this weapon of mass dysfunction leaves a lot of good, innocent jokes with no place to go.

Reality Bites

Borat works his way across America to abduct Pamela Anderson
Borat works his way across America to abduct Pamela Anderson

The premise of this film with an overly verbose title is simple. Borat Sagdiyev is a Kazakh TV newsman sent to the United States of America to film a documentary and, theoretically, bring back some life lessons that will help his fellow countrymen.

Borat’s mission very quickly takes a wrong turn when he becomes mesmerized by the boob tube in his hotel room; he is infatuated at first sight with Pamela Anderson while watching a rerun of Baywatch. Documentary be damned, he takes it upon himself to claim her as his bride and a cross-country road trip ensues.

That’s all fine and dandy; the film sports a funny little premise, but star and writer Sasha Baron Cohen, perhaps better known as the gangsta rapper Ali G, turns the movie into a non-stop assault on just about every stereotype and prejudice in the book.

Borat is a sexist, anti-Semitic pig with a really big mouth and a fairly poor command of the English language. But, as several accounts report, in real life Baron Cohen himself is a Jew and an extremely pleasant, genteel Englishman. What the actor does, essentially, is pick up where Andy Kaufman left off. When Baron Cohen is in character, he does so full tilt, warping the very fabric of reality.

At times, that is part of the film’s charm. It’s hard to tell what has been scripted from the Candid Camera-like antics of a comedian catching real people off guard.

Those real people include members of Veteran Feminists of America, a gay pride parade, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr and Alan Keyes, a former presidential candidate.

Politically Incorrect

In Borat’s world, the Jews are responsible for the events of Sept. 11; he proudly introduces his sister as the number four-ranked prostitute in his rural Kazakh hometown, then he kisses her; he also introduces the audience to the town’s mechanic/abortionist and the town’s rapist.

While Pamplona proudly hosts the Running of the Bulls, Borat’s town has the Running of the Jew.

It’s commendable that Cohen has the balls to be so blatantly, universally offensive, but at the same time, there’s a sophomoric undertone that soon wears out its welcome. Essentially, this is a one-joke movie that runs through every permutation of that joke for 80 minutes.

Is that a fun way to spend an evening, traipsing through the catalog of misconception and misinformation? Well, no doubt for some it will be. They’ll surely also enjoy the lengthy sequence wherein two highly unattractive men get into a round of nude wrestling that takes them from their hotel room to the hotel’s conference center.

For others, the joke is made clear and runs its course by the end of the opening credits. Granted, those credits are funny. The original “Kazakh credits” have been not so subtly blocked out and covered over with English captions.

The Kazakhstani Question

Baron Cohen has capitalized on the reaction of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. In response to the film’s extremely negative take on the country of Kazakhstan, the country’s PR department has flooded cable TV in the United States with colorful commercials exhorting the good the country has to offer and placed full-page ads in major papers such as The New York Times.

It’s only natural for Baron Cohen to cash in on the situation, and simultaneously point out the hypocrisy of much bigger names, such as Mel Gibson and O.J. Simpson, along the way.

But picking on a country like Kazakhstan, which most certainly does have its share of problems – none of which are even remotely touched upon in this movie – seems overly callous and misguided. Maybe it would’ve been funnier if Baron Cohen created a fictional country with which to inbreed all sorts of bad habits and poor lifestyles.

Maybe.

The movie’s most inspired bits focus squarely on the ridiculous, offering a brief respite from the film’s primary agenda. Some scenes build on each other nicely, leading up to truly wacky moments, such as a sequence involving a bear, a prostitute, Borat’s incredibly overweight TV producer and Borat himself, all squished in a soft-serve ice cream truck.

Grate Expectations

Another relatively inspired sequence involves Borat’s attempt to abduct and marry Pamela Anderson during a book signing at, of all places, a Virgin Megastore.

Unfortunately, Baron Cohen’s character simply starts to grate after a while. He’s an ass, far from endearing, and by the movie’s end, it’s a great thing to be able to walk away from the guy.

As for that ending, Borat talks about how, after chasing the dream of a plastic chest, he found real beauty right in front of his eyes, back home.

It’s a sentimental, feel good message that, after the preceding assault on sense and sensibility, feels like a tacked-on afterthought as artificial as Pam’s boobs.

  • Marty: In a deliciously cynical mood, I decided to see Borat. The review that pushed me was actually The Nation's, which says, in essence, that all of the butts of Borat's jokes deserve it. They seemed particularly delighted by the "accidental" damage done in the secessionist antique shop. In fact, I would agree that everyone who comes off looking bad, does so of their own accord. So good for Cohen. November 23, 2006 reply
  • Robert LaRue: Another angle to this irritating movie centers on trying to imagine this film being made in some other nation. A consistent theme is just how very far each encounter goes before the 'victims' walk away from Borat... or never get it and stick it out through the entire 'interview' ordeal. Quick, name a culture that would be likely to put up with so much abuse from a stranger. Some never get it. Some threaten to call the cops. No one stands up and bashes him in the head. November 27, 2006 reply