I still remember laughing so hard at Borat that I couldn't breathe. The 2006 comedy was so dangerous that watching it was almost anxiety-producing, because it seemed like star Sacha Baron Cohen was perpetually in danger of getting beaten to a pulp. This semi-obscure HBO character became a household name as a result of the movie's success, making a sequel unlikely. Who was there possibly left to fool? Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan acknowledges this in its opening minutes, then finds new ways of fooling the people who need to be made to look foolish. Nothing could ever top the genius of the original, although there are enough laughs here to justify a watch.
The concept is that the original movie made Kazakhstan a laughing stock around the world. Borat is now persona non grata. He gets a chance to redeem himself when the country's leader wants to cozy up to the Trump administration by having a gift delivered to Vice President Mike Pence. If Borat can complete the mission, all will be forgiven. Arriving in America with his teenage daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) in tow, he quickly discovers that he can't go anywhere without being recognized. The film's solution? Costumes!
The other solution is having Bakalova do some of the fooling. To her great credit, the actress is every bit as committed to the ruse as Baron Cohen is, and she gets what is certain to become one of the most incendiary cinematic scenes of the year. It involves someone with close ties to the Trump administration (not Pence). If the scene doesn't turn into a national scandal, it will be a real shock.
That sequence is a major highlight of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. So is the section in which the character storms the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The movie is at its best when being overtly political. Borat has always been a tool for Sacha Baron Cohen to get people to expose the worst aspects of themselves – the racist ideas they normally keep quiet, the buried prejudices, etc. When the comedian targets QAnon devotees who believe Hillary Clinton literally drinks the blood of children, such mockery feels completely justified.
Where the picture comes up a little short is in the stuff that's not political. Certain gags seem designed purely for shock value, rather than satiric worth. At one point, Borat has Tutar take part in a debutante ball, and it's basically just a set-up for a menstruation gross-out bit. Nothing about the other attendees is revealed. They seem targeted simply because of their affluence and pretentiousness. During the course of his adventure, Borat also encounters a babysitter, a cell phone salesman, and a guy who works at a fax service. My hunch is that these people are playing along with Baron Cohen. They're surprisingly tolerant of the Kazakh reporter, with reactions that aren't as shocked as they should be.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is clearly compromised by the fact that it has become harder for Sacha Baron Cohen to dupe people. His modus operandi is too well-known. Consequently, the sequel rarely reaches the gasp-inducing hilarity of the original. When it does hit the mark, though, the laughs are still pretty big. And it hits the mark frequently enough to satisfy viewers who crave more Borat shenanigans.
Note: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime.
out of four
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.