Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
2020, R, 95 min. Directed by Jason Woliner. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Irina Nowak.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Oct. 23, 2020
Somewhere, on the morning of Oct. 21, 2020, former Mayor of New York Rudolph William Louis Giuliani was likely screaming into a phone about how it's not what it looks like, and entrapment, and suing people. That's the moment that the new Borat mockumentary went from "a movie" to a hammer blow in the face of a corrupt administration.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (up until recently burdened with the unwieldy Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, so let's just say Borat 2) is the sequel to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (which, for ease and sanity's sake, will just be referred to as Borat). British satirist Sacha Baron Cohen returns as Borat Sagdiyev, the Kazakh journalist he created for Da Ali G Show in 2000. Originally intended as a way to let an absurd outsider cartoon lampoon British niceties, he shifted targets in the early 2000s to America. Cohen went to Hollywood and shelved the mustachioed naif for almost 15 years, and now he's back. Yet Kazakhstan's number four journalist has had a rough few years, imprisoned in a hard labor camp after making the country look stupid. However, he has one chance to redeem himself: He must deliver a sex monkey to Mike Pence.
Cohen had to retire his original proxy, Ali G, because he'd become too (in)famous for the gag to work any more, and he makes a nod to that problem being amplified with Borat (he even throws in a mankini throwback, and a discount "foreign journalist" Halloween costume, just to prove his own point). Borat 2, by necessity, adds new layers. First is that the grinning buffoon's 15-year-old daughter (Nowak, absolutely Cohen's equal in committing to the bit) has tagged along, giving the crew ingress to a whole new dumpster load of American cultural corruption, and denigration of women. Second, Borat spends much of his reportage undercover in costumes and disguises that would make Inspector Clouseau blush.
Somehow, this manages to get them and their camera crew into increasingly unlikely locations, and have America's current plague of imbeciles, conspiracy theorists, and fascists expose themselves in that classic best-of-Borat style. The biggest set-pieces – most especially attending a Mike Pence rally dressed in a Klan robe over an alarmingly good Donald Trump costume – are fearless agitprop of the kind we need right now.
Yet Borat 2 suffers from the same problem that has plagued Cohen's work since his breakout run on British SNL knockoff The 11 O'Clock Show. There's still too much punching down, but especially too much peddling in stereotypes and xenophobic clichés. Taking potshots at endemic misogyny, antisemitism, and antiziganism doesn't mean hawking hackneyed gags (Kazakh women are hairy! Laugh! Laugh!), especially when the targets of opportunity are so clear and obvious. When you've got Rudy on the hook, do you really need to shine some random old white guy's balls for laughs?
But those old weaknesses can't overshadow that, when Cohen hits the right target, this is dangerous, brilliant filmmaking. Even if you've seen the now-infamous footage of him spoofing a bunch of QAnon racist goobers at the March for Our Rights rally by disguising himself as a country singer, it's made even more fascinating by the added context of the time he spent living with a couple of Holocaust deniers. That rally, though, is a thing of beauty, made even more powerful because it's pretty clear that Cohen had second thoughts right to the moment he set foot on the stage. As for that final bombshell, not to spoil anything, but now it's gone off, a certain former New York mayor might want to think about getting a really good lawyer.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is available on Amazon Prime.