Borat Sagdiyev’s prankster reputation precedes him. Fourteen years since Sacha Baron Cohen introduced the Kazakhstani mischief maker and his mankini in the massively successful, Oscar-nominated Borat, even the vaguely pop culture-aware can recognize his mustachioed visage, or catch a “Very nice!” reference. So who’s still getting pranked by Borat, or any Cohen character who resembles him at this point? The President’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that’s who.
In Rudy’s defense, he isn’t fooled by Borat during the jaw-dropping near-climax to sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (★★★★☆). Instead, the former mayor of New York is taken by Cohen in another disguise, and by the actor-comedian’s main accomplice in the film, Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, playing Borat’s daughter Tutar pretending to be a Russian reporter. So it doesn’t take a spy agency or foreign government to catch Trump’s consigliere with his hands down his pants inside a hotel room with an attractive Russian he’s never met. Just two committed comedians and a well-prepared crew get the job done, and that’s not even this film’s most audacious stunt.
Borat also crashes a speech by Mike Pence at the Conservative Political Action Conference, while wearing a well-chosen disguise. Directed by Jason Woliner (making his feature debut, after cutting his teeth on TV comedies like What We Do in the Shadows), the film addresses the obstacle of Borat’s fame with humor, ingenuity, and by relying on the rapid-fire talents of Bakalova. She carries much of the bizarre, yet politically astute plot about Borat trying to impress Trump by delivering a gift to “Vice-Pussy-grabber” Pence. A formidable one-two punch, Bakalova and Cohen both can go big or play it straight, depending on the situation, and their comic rhythm develops into a surprisingly sweet father-daughter match as they prank their way across America, from a debutante ball to a Republican Women’s Club meeting.
Borat and Tutar even venture to a March for Our Rights anti-mask rally, stepping right into 2020 existence. The film and its humor reside on a razor-thin line between staged and spontaneous, faked and for-real. It’s eerie when it’s not hilarious, and sometimes it’s both. Borat himself, the naïve and offensive, wild-and-crazy guy in the boxy, gray suit still resides on that line, and Cohen mines new layers of humanity from the character in his fumbling attempts to better understand his daughter. His trusted daughter-raising manual by the Kazakhstan Ministry of Agriculture and Wildlife only gets him so far.
But again, Borat’s too famous to fool all of the people, all of the time, so he’s often buried beneath additional layers of fake hair and padding. His personality is missed. Also missing much of the time is the element of surprise. Borat’s first trip to America, and the decade-and-a-half of cringe comedy since, have primed the audience to anticipate exactly where his pranks are headed.
Yet, somehow unsuspecting innocents, and some who have it coming, are drawn eagerly into embarrassing themselves, or exposing themselves for our entertainment. And even when the movie signals where it’s going — when Borat and Tutar decide to bust out a traditional fertility dance at the deb ball, for example — Cohen and Bakalova make each set-piece count by leaving it all on the floor.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Visitwww.amazon.com.
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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.
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