Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian
Running Time: 86 min.
***1/2 (out of ****)
I've actually tried to avoid seeing Borat. Usually any movie accompanied by so much hype is bound to dissapoint. It's almost inevitable. I mean, how could this movie possibly be as funny as everyone claims it is? Well, it is. For nearly its entire 86 minute running time I was on the floor in pain from laughter. Does every single joke work? No, because it never does in any comedy but I'll go out on a limb and say that about 80 percent of them do here. I'm convinced the character of Borat probably wouldn't work in a regular comedy, but in a mockumentary where he's unleashed on unsuspecting people who think he's real, it's a home run. The ironic thing about the film is that Borat's goal is to take what he's learned in America back to his home country of Kazakhstan, but by the time it's over we've unintentionally learned more about our own country and the people in it than we could from any real documentary.
Kazakh t.v. reporter Borat Sagdiyev is dispatched to the United States with a documentary film crew which includes his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) to report on American culture. He starts off in New York, but after watching Baywatch all night in his hotel room he becomes determined to travel cross country to California to meet and marry the woman of his dreams, Pamela Anderson. I suppose this is the part of the review where I tell you all the crazy things he does and says to his clueless, but mostly deserving victims (some of whom come off better than others) who actually think this guy is a from another country, but there's no way I could describe it in any way that does it justice.
We witness Borat in a women's group, at a gay pride parade, taking an etiquite class, hanging with a bunch of college frat boys, and most memorably performing the national anthem at a rodeo show. When he takes the mic at that rodeo show and dispenses his views on Iraq before singing his country's national anthem the movie takes a turn from hilarious to scary as when we realize these people are cheering his rantings (which include wishing President Bush to drink the blood of all men, women and children in Iraq). You may be surprised at the number of social, racial and ethnic issues brought up amidst the craziness of this movie.
No matter what your feelings may be on this hilarious and often times controversial satire, you have to give Sacha Baron Cohen credit for coming up with a completely fresh character out of thin air and an original idea for a comedy (which is scarce these days). Most importantly, he had the balls to go way all the way with it. The movie doesn't just cross the line, it demolishes it. It's surprising he was able to make such fools out of complete strangers the way he does and escape the filming without any physical altercations (at least that we've heard about).
Supposedly releases were signed by the participants, but there has been some legal controversy because those papers of consent were for involvement in a documentary. There were already four lawsuits filed by people who claim the film and their involvement in it were completely misrepresented to them. Personally, I think they should get a life...and a sense of humor. I would have been thrilled to appear if only for two seconds in one of the most original comedies to come along in years, even if it made me look like a complete idiot. I'm sure most participants in the film probably do share that view, even if we don't hear about it.
The movie isn't perfect and does start to run out of steam a little toward the end simply because there's only so much of this guy you can take. The good news though, is there can't possibly be a sequel (watch this statement come back and haunt me) because the character is now world famous, which puts an end to fooling ordinary people into believing this guy is for real. Without that there's no reason for the character to continue and I think Cohen realizes this. The element of surprise and spontaneity would be gone. This is probably for the better as Borat deserves to survive in the canon of film comedies as a stand alone accomplishment without being watered down by any attempts to top it.
A lot of controversy has been made over Pamela Anderson's involvement in the film (arguably the shining moment of her career) and how Kid Rock furiously ended their marriage because of it. Something tells me if that's enough to cause a divorce there may have been some deeper problems there. Just a guess. Kid's reaction proves an important point though. With Borat you're either along for the ride or you're not.