Review: Borat

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(Our reviewer likes Borat, the clueless reporter).

Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen), a terminally gullible TV reporter hailing from a primitive little village in Kazakhstan, harbors some rather naïve notions about the West.

For example, because he apparently learned most of what he knows about American culture from television, he thinks it’s okay to shoot Indians on sight, and to refer to blacks by the N-word. Besides these misguided misconceptions, he also happens to be a sexist, incestuous, homophobic, anti-Semite, though these deeply ingrained prejudices are ostensibly pardonable, since they emanate from his presumably being raised in a backwards environment.

But none of this narrow-mindedness has prevented the clueless journalist from landing a plum assignment, namely, to shoot a documentary about the United States. So, packing little more than a live chicken and a hand-held camera into his weathered, leather valise, Borat bids his family and friends adieu to embark with wide-eyed wonder on one very eventful journey to what he expects to be the best country in the world.

This fish-out-of-water premise is the fulcrum for the non-stop nuttiness generated by Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious  Nation of Kazakhstan. The picture is the brainchild of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who originally introduced this kooky character he created on HBO’s Da Ali G Show.

Fully fleshed-out for the big screen (literally and figuratively), and accompanied by his morbidly obese producer, Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), Borat enthusiastically careens across America in a rundown ice cream truck. Sporting a thick, Eastern bloc accent and clumsier than the proverbial bull in a china closet (again, literally and figuratively), the annoying Kazakh conducts a disconnected series of unscripted interviews at each port-of-call. Invariably, Borat leaves behind a trail of dumbfounded subjects who appear to be as baffled by the affable foreigner’s bizarre behavior as by the idea that they’ve might have just been had.

That’s because the bulk of Cohen’s co-stars are not actors but unsuspecting straight men duped into signing a release by a suggestion that they were about to be filmed for a serious documentary. So, most of the participants were utterly unaware that they’d unwittingly agreed to be unfavorably portrayed as prejudiced or as the butt of a mean-spirited joke.

Whether he’s getting an etiquette lesson, buying a used-car, getting his first driving lesson, singing the Star Spangled Banner at the rodeo, shopping for antiques, crashing a Gay Pride parade, or sitting-in on a feminist, consciousness-raising session, our provocative protagonist manages to get a rise out of everyone he encounters. Although there are sidesplitting sequences galore in this cleverly executed farce, still, there remain deeper ethical questions which ought to be addressed in the course of critiquing this new genre of guerilla cinema.

First, is it okay that so many people appearing in the movie, some now reportedly consulting attorneys, claim to have been hoodwinked into make fools of themselves? Second, assuming the ends does justify the means, is it ethical to mix the victims’ candid, offhand comments into a production featuring much more repugnant, deliberately-staged, over-the-top material?

Finally, if we pride ourselves as paragons of multi-cultural tolerance, why are we even inclined to celebrate a Neanderthal like Borat, as if bigotry is acceptable when advocated by an ignoramus? He openly advocates incest, rape, the hanging of gays and drinking the blood of Iraqis, though saving his most virulent hatred for Jews.

Only because Sacha Baron Cohen is Jewish is Borat able to vent his anti-Semitism in an unrelenting, unrepentant fashion, ranging from lines like, “Come on, make my day, Jew!� to a parody of Pamplona’s running of the bulls called Kazakhstan’s “Running of the Jew� during which a crowd kicks a pregnant woman in the stomach to cause a miscarriage.
Judging by the boorish behavior of Borat and his countrymen, one would never suspect that the real Kazakhstan is a developed nation with a higher literacy rate (99.5%) than that of the United States. Isn’t it curious that supposedly relatively civilized audiences could be so readily entertained by such a misleading characterization, especially when they’re actually less-educated than the folks being satirized up on the screen?

Sadly, the prospects of our catching up in I.Q. or of clearing up any of the Kazakh confusion aren’t very good, as long as box office alone remains the bottom line for Hollywood. For Borat’s success will undoubtedly be imitated, so expect an explosion of this sort of moronic, politically incorrect slapstick as pabulum for the uncritical, degenerate demographic.

Horrifying, vulgar and exploitative, yet somehow simultaneously inspired, brilliant and convulsively hilarious, Borat is a Jackass-meets-60 Minutes masterpiece you’ll be ashamed to admit you loved every second of. Provided you don’t mind experiencing those conflicting emotions, this treat is also easily the funniest film of the year thus far.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated R for pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs, crude sexuality, and frontal male nudity. Running time: 84 minutes. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

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