|The red, white, and bruised: Kazakh reporter Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) mangles “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Rodeo.|
| Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan |
Dir. Larry Charles; writ. Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips; feat. Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson (R)
Unless you’ve been holed up inside a sensory-deprivation chamber with your thumbs jammed into your ears and your eyes closed, and said chamber was locked, covered with a dark cloak of formidable opacity, and tucked away in an undersea cave with a boulder rolled over the opening, and the body of water that held the cave was frozen solid by some enormous and dastardly device or other and then pried up and shot off into space, landing in a tight orbit around some distant astral body, where it remained for the last half-decade or so until finally wresting itself free and falling back to earth to spring you abruptly from your frigid, five-years’ tomb — oh, and plus you had one of those fancy Holly Golightly sleep-masks on the whole time — you’re probably at least peripherally aware that there’s a potty-humor flick opening this weekend that’s got a few folks in Kazakhstan rather abundantly pissed.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, is, of course, the big-screen translation of enormously popular (and, faith, very, very funny) British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s creation Borat Sagdiyev — an ersatz Kazakh television personality (played by Cohen) who explores the far reaches of the American landscape and unleashes upon unwitting victims an effortless combination of guileless, childlike wonder and blindly virulent anti-Semitism, jingoism, sexism, and … (how to put this, exactly?) … hatred of gypsies. The fuss started in earnest after Cohen (who is himself Jewish) so offended the Kazakh government that the nation threatened legal action to halt any further lampooning. Cohen-as-Borat, as widely reported, offered a return statement supporting his government’s efforts to “sue this Jew,” and things sort of went downhill from there. (Kazakhstan has since poured $40 million — more than it has spent on any film previous — into the Milos Forman-produced Nomad, an “Up-with-K-town” historical war epic slated for worldwide release in 2006-2007 and posited as a counterbalance to Borat and recent negative publicity.) Cohen has also taken heat from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and, recently, from a German group accusing him of antiziganism (hostility toward gypsies).
All that said, when the dust settles, there’s a movie here — one that, in parts, is howlingly funny. The premise is light, flexible, and recognizable: Borat is given a camera and companion and sent by his native country to learn about America. The film is, very simply, an extension — and mild expansion — of the segments that spawned it, stitching together the familiar candid moments and interviews with rubes (in which we’re in on the joke, and they’re not) with unfamiliar narrative interludes between Borat and sidekick Azamat (in which we know it’s a joke, but no one’s acting like it). These tonal digressions work, occasionally (there’s a sequence of fun, well-placed nods to Midnight Cowboy, and the most undisputably, tastelessly gut-busting — and soon-to-be most infamous — bit of the film `see FYI, above` is “scripted,” as well), but take considerable getting used to; early on, they seem jarringly awkward and out-of-place, and never feel completely welcome. Visible effort is exerted to make the meat of the film — vignettes wherein Cohen screws with people (the best of which, sadly, are more or less outed by the trailer) — adhere forcibly to a structure, but unnecessarily so: The lesson of Jackass (God help me, I’m offering that as a viable example) is that if your show consists of disconnected jokes, don’t be afraid to leave them that way. But, I nit-pick. Ali G devotees will expect Cohen to push the limits of taste and wipe his ass with political correctness, and he does just that. Oh, good heavens, does he ever do just that. Cohen, let’s be frank, is a genius — part Peter Sellers, part Jonathan Swift, part Tom Green (the good parts) — and Borat serves up some of the biggest, basest laughs of the year. Still, I can’t help thinking I’d rather just watch Da Ali G Show for two hours.