‘Borat’ Versus the Virus

Sacha Baron Cohen pranks Rudy Giuliani, and America, in a high-concept pandemic sequel

I saw the Borat: Subsequent Movie Film movie. This movie appeared on Amazon Prime, and I didn’t have to leave my house to watch it. In fact, I haven’t left my house, except to walk my dog, in four days. It’s almost like I’m locked down, even though I’m not. As Borat would say, very nice!

This Borat movie is a lot more high-concept than the first Borat movie, which came out in 2006, when most people couldn’t pick Borat out of a police lineup.  Sacha Baron Cohen created the character to prank dumb American (and British) people, but he ironically became the favorite quote-subject of mockable frat boys everywhere.


BORAT: SUBSEQUENT MOVIE FILM ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Jason Woliner
Written by: Sacha Baron Cohen and seven other people.
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova
Running time: 95 min


 

The first film had a simple premise. Borat came to America to promote cultural exchange between the U.S.A. and his backwards, Jew-hating nation of Kazakhstan. As a result, a deserving America got a huge pie in the face, and the movie was a massive hit. The Borat sequel, which Cohen somehow managed to make in the midst of a pandemic, has a much more complicated set-up.

As the film begins, the Kazakh government has imprisoned Borat for 14 years because of the cultural disaster of his first movie. But they agree to let him out if he brings a television personality named “Jonny the Monkey” to America as a cultural-exchange present for Vice President Mike Pence. The monkey doesn’t make it, but Borat’s attractive teenage daughter Tutar, played by Maria Bakalova, arrives in its place. There’s an evil twist that takes up the final 15 minutes of the film, but I won’t give it away here.

Borat
Borat presents Tutar to high society.

Tutar is a nice workaround for Cohen, because everyone recognizes Borat. With a good-looking but anonymous young woman in tow, he can make fun of abortion clinics, debutante balls, and plastic surgery doctors. But while the film is just as outrageous and dirty and sometimes as funny as the first one, the high concept gets in the way. A visit to the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, where Cohen barges in dressed as Donald Trump, falls flat. Once COVID-19 enters the plot, Borat quarantines with a couple of Q-Anon members in rural Washington. There are some funny bits where he tries to kill a virus with a frying pan, but it feels scripted.

Meanwhile, Tutar reinvents herself as an OAN-style blond TV “journalist”, which leads to the movie’s two money scenes. In one, Cohen/Borat disguises himself as a singer named “Country Steve”, getting an anti-lockdown crowd to chant about chopping up journalists like “the Saudis do.” In the second, Tutar interviews Rudy Giuliani in a New York hotel suite, which has led to a lot of controversy. But whether or not Cohen has selectively edited the scene, and even though the actress playing Tutar is 24, not an underage girl, Giuliani does seem to touch her a lot and allows her to remove his microphone from his pants on a hotel bed. It’s odd and uncomfortable. Your reaction to the scene will probably depend on your political leanings.

If you lean anywhere left of center, Borat is your hero. He reserves all his mockery for the right. The second half of the Borat sequel is about as overtly political as any movie you’ll see this year, or this decade. The first half is a sweet, almost goofy, father-daughter sex farce. When the movie overtly attaches itself to current events in the second half, the satirical edge gets harder and more ideological. It’s effective, but suddenly the joke is no longer on Borat. It’s on us.

There’s one exception to that second-half rule, though. Tatar, who is as big a moron as Borat, discovers on Facebook that the Holocaust was a hoax. For Borat, the Holocaust is Kazakhstan’s greatest source of pride, so he falls into a deep depression. Disguised as a “Jew”, wearing a six-foot long witch’s nose and holding a bag of money, he walks into a synagogue, so an actual Jew can infect him with “venom” and kill him.  He encounters a Holocaust survivor, who preaches universal love and acceptance and gives him a hug. That warmed my heart. I’m a sucker for any Sacha Baron Cohen Jewish joke, especially because he’s a leading advocate for removing Holocaust denial from social media. When, someday, he makes fun of anti-Semitism on the left as well, he’ll be my best friend.

This concludes my review of the Borat: Subsequent Movie Film movie.

Borat

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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