It’s a good thing that the blatantly offensive, raunchy film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” has received almost universal high-fives from critics. For if the “moviefilm” were to do poorly, says its hero, Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev, “I will be execute.” Talk about high stakes.
The wildly popular character, played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen of “Da Ali G Show,” embarks on a tour of the U.S. to make a documentary about America for Kazakhstan, and while in New York, realizes his true calling – to meet actress Pamela Anderson and make a “sexy time explosion” with her. So he convinces his rotund producer Azamat, played by Ken Davitian, to drive cross-country in an ice cream truck with a grizzly bear so that he can go to L.A. and take Pam’s supposed virginity.
Along the way, Borat encounters feminists, Southern belles, Pentecostals, fraternity boys, and, to his horror, Jews. And to the audience’s delight, he shocks, dumbfounds and horrifies all of the above. After a lesson in Southern etiquette, Borat invites a prostitute as his date to dinner, and carries a plastic bag of his own excrement to the table. He tells appalled feminists about how the brains of squirrels in Kazakhstan are bigger than those of women. He goes to a suburban yard sale to collect gypsy tears – which he says can remove curses and also prevent AIDS.
Though a few of the characters Borat encounters come off as actors, rather than genuinely duped denizens, the comedy is still top-notch. When Borat chooses to stay in a bed and breakfast, he and Azmat find out halfway through the night that they are sleeping in the home of Jews. Two cockroaches appear on their floor as the terrified men cower underneath their sheets. “The Jews have shifted their shape!” says the terrified journalist, who begins to throw fistfuls of money at the cockroaches before sprinting out of the home, pastrami sandwich untouched.
Some of the scenarios have been done before on the show, like the conversation with feminists and an etiquette lesson, but with new victims, they feel fresh. It’s hard not to feel bad for a few – especially the unwitting Alan Keyes, who, during a brief stop in Washington, Borat meets to discuss gay sex and dubs the politician “A real chocolate-face – no makeup!” Also, be prepared for the most vile of all nude scenes in any film of this decade. A hint: it’s not between Borat and Pam Anderson.
Borat tells us what’s wrong with America in a way Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart never could. From finding southern rodeo cowboys who speak openly about killing Muslims, to requesting a 9 mm handgun for protection against the Jews, Cohen is able to get people to speak candidly about prejudices that many Americans thought ended decades ago. Even his clueless mispronunciations carry weight: “I support your war of terror,” he says to the rodeo crowd.
But what will this film mean for the character of Borat? After the publicity blitz for the film, Cohen will certainly have difficulty finding anyone across America who isn’t already familiar with his pranks. The jig is up – it’s hard to imagine that a “Borat II” is possible – or any further appearances of the character, for that matter. It may be time for Cohen to take on one of his other pet personas, and with talk of a film about Bruno, his gay, fashionable alter ego, circulating, that may be exactly what happens.
Despite the Kazakh government’s ire over Cohen’s portrayal of their country (he depicts the annual “Running of the Jew,” where children are encouraged to smash the “Jew-egg” before it hatches), Borat’s satire is biting and smart, and will spawn at least a dozen irritating catchphrases. But for all the veiled lessons about misogyny and racism, the “moviefilm” really is, after all, a sexy time. As Borat himself would say, “High-five.”