BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN directed by Larry Charles, written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer and Todd Phillips, with Baron Cohen. 82 minutes. A 20th Century Fox release. Opens Friday (November 3). For venues and times, see Movies, page 84. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Imagine you're riding in a hotel elevator and two men get on with you. One is short, obese and hairy. The other is tall, skinny and hairy. Also, he's holding a giant rubber fist. Oh, and they're both naked.
Would you call the cops? Or would you just stare at the ceiling and hope you were going to wake up soon? Fortunately for Borat Sagdiyev, the man in his elevator chooses the latter course, and Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan continues apace.
At once filthy, offensive and choke-on-your-own-tongue funny, this mock doc starring Kazakh reporter Borat (comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's alter ego) is a satire on a Swiftian level that leaves all other fake news in the dust.
Borat - smelly, racist and perpetually horny - leaves Kazakhstan to visit "U S and A" to learn what makes America great and bring some of that magic back to his homeland. Things get off to an excellent start when he washes his tighty whities in Central Park and looses a chicken on the subway.
Watching a Baywatch rerun, he falls in love with Pamela Anderson, then sets off for California, determined to marry her in the "traditional Kazakh way," i.e., by throwing her into a burlap sack and kidnapping her. Along the way, his trip becomes ever sadder and more surreal: he wrecks an antique store, drinks with a bunch of frat boys, buys a gun from an anti-Semite and winds up in a Pentecostal revival meeting.
The sight of Baron Cohen, who is Jewish, speaking in tongues while a hoarse-voiced preacher lays hands on him is both hilarious and disturbing. You have to wonder how many times he was arrested during the shoot.
Baron Cohen's humour appeals to the same audience that watches Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert: young, smart adults who appreciate irony and Baron Cohen's commitment to his characters. (He rarely appears in public as himself.)
People also feel safe laughing at Borat because few Westerners know anything about Kazakhstan; we don't need to feel ashamed of laughing at stereotypes, because we don't know any. The Kazakhstan government has started a PR campaign to combat Borat; naturally, this only eggs Baron Cohen on.
The jokes here are brilliantly layered. Like those of many British comedians, they run the gamut from brilliant to disgusting. For example, is his taking a dump in front of Trump Towers a political statement, gross-out humour or both?
And then there's the vast elaborate joke played on Baron Cohen's unwitting victims in the film and on the audience. You go into it expecting Borat to make Americans look ridiculous, and he does. The joke's on them - they don't know he's a character. But aside from a couple of blatantly bigoted Southerners, most of the people he meets are kind, welcoming and eager to help, even if what they're "teaching" him makes your skin crawl.
The joke's on us; despite their appalling ignorance, the Yanks come out looking okay.