Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev
Ken Davitian as Azamat Bagatov
Pamela Anderson as Herself
Alan Keyes as Himself
Directed by Larry Charles
“Borat” steals liberally from Andy Kaufman and Tom Green to create something so sophomoric that it’s a sad state of our own nation that people still find sexist and racist humor so funny.
Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sasha Baron Cohen) has been sent to New York on assignment by his TV station, but when he falls in love with Pamela Anderson after seeing her on “Baywatch,” he and his producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) travel across country in an ice cream truck meeting all sorts of real Americans on the way.
You may have already heard that “Borat” is the “funniest movie ever” so it’s time for someone to take a more realistic look at this movie from the perspective of someone who’s heard all the raves and went in knowing full well what to expect, hoping it would be as funny as people claimed. Granted, having never watched “Da Ali G Show”–I always saw him as that annoying guy in the Madonna video–I never heard of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Borat until seeing the movie trailer and hearing about his recent shenanigans in the news, but Borat can be summed up in one sentence as Cohen’s “homage” to Eastern Europeans, a clueless foreign idiot who comes from a country where women, the mentally challenged and Jews are treated worse than animals.
Because Borat is so uneducated, he speaks his mind with all sorts of outrageous racial and misogynistic utterances, but “Borat” the movie is basically one joke repeated over the course of a movie, where he goes up to unsuspecting strangers and does his idiot act in order to get a reaction. It’s only somewhat creative in the way that Cohen, director Larry Charles and their staff of writers tie these individual segments into a cohesive story about Borat trying to find his dream girl Pamela Anderson, but the production values are non-existent.
The funniest moments are when “Borat” shines the spotlight on Americans as being as racist and sexist as his character pretends to be. At a Texas rodeo, he sings his own version of the National Anthem after a rant about Bush drinking the blood of Iraqi men, women and children; it’s met with cheers. Sure, many people will hail this movie for Cohen’s “subversive” genius at shining a mirror on what makes audiences laugh and react, but it’s mostly fratboy humor, driven home by a scene where Borat is picked up by a camper where its collegiate riders share their own derogatory thoughts on women. Cohen misses his chance to have some fun with politicians while visiting Washington D.C, as a bit with conservative Congressman Allan Keyes is wasted by Borat talking about how he unwittingly went home with some gay men after a local parade.
Borat’s producer Azamat, an even funnier character played by Ken Davitian, has moments where he overshadows Borat–at one point quite literally in a gross scene which turns into a funny moment where they chase each other naked through a crowded hotel and convention hall, a joke taken from the “Jackass” playbook. Other scenes that do elicit laughs include one where people try to teach Borat manners at a dinner party followed by an even funnier bit where Borat is “saved” at an evangelical ceremony.
The point is that the movie’s funniest laughs come from people and their reactions, not the material written by Cohen and his crew. Their humor is mean, not funny. Cohen spends the movie gladly accepting the kindness of strangers who accept him, despite his outlandish appearance and demeanor, then he takes advantage of their good graces by turning them into laughing stocks for his audience. Cohen sometimes goes too far to get those laughs, like when he starts breaking things in a Mom ‘n’ Pop shop “by accident.” Tom Green has been doing this same schtick for years and been attacked by critics for it. The only difference is that Borat uses a funny foreign accent, which apparently makes it “more intelligent.” Certainly Andy Kaufman had a stellar career doing a similar character without resorting to racial epithets, and Eugene Hutz of New York band Gogol Bordello, an actual Eastern European, plays a similar cartoon character onstage–one slightly modified for Liev Schreiber’s “Everything Is Illuminated”–without it being so offensive.
And then there’s the anti-Semitism, something so ridiculously flagrant that I would seriously question anyone who finds the jokes funny. The Jewish people have had to face very real oppression and racism for thousands of years. “Borat” makes it seem like it’s okay to laugh at that, starting with his town’s tradition of “The Running of the Jews,” as ridiculous caricatures with giant paper maché heads being chased down the street by kids. This idea is reintroduced when Borat and his producer find themselves “trapped” in a bed and breakfast run by a kindly Jewish couple, and they start throwing money at cockroaches to fend them off. The fact that Cohen is himself Jewish doesn’t make it any better than Mel Gibson’s more subtle anti-Semitism, nor does it make it any less irresponsible to release a movie that makes light of racism purely in the name of comedy.
Ultimately, the movie ends with Cohen meeting his dream girl Pamela Anderson, a scene that will leave you wondering how much of it was planned or scripted, but then Cohen is back home in Kazakhstan and the movie ends in less than 90 minutes. It takes so long to adjust to Borat’s onslaught of tasteless humor, that the short length makes you feel cheated, like the old adage about the restaurant that serves lousy food in such small portions.
The Bottom Line:
Cohen’s diehard fans will probably shrug this review off as someone who “just doesn’t get it”, but you know what? There’s not much to get. If you’re a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen’s inane schtick, you’ll probably already be well prepared for his onslaught of poor taste, but anyone who understands tolerance won’t fall for Borat’s low-blow attempts at comedy. Sure, it’s easy to laugh at the people caught in the act, but it’s sad that anyone can claim brilliance to this unoriginal one-joke character that merely plays up to our lowest base instincts.