By Christian DiMartino
What a great month for Sacha Baron Cohen.
He’s excellent in Netflix’s latest Oscar contender, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and now he’s brought back his greatest invention to date, Borat, with his latest film, the oddly titled Borat Subsequent MovieFilm (you should’ve seen the original title). Baron Cohen’s other adventures, including Bruno and The Dictator, had their share of laughs, but Borat was his crowning achievement. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with this character?
Truth as, much as we’ve probably wanted a sequel, the one thing on my mind for years is just how he would pull it off. You may recall that the first film had Baron Cohen crashing a bunch of events with real footage captured. Back then, he could get away with it because not only had nobody seen the movie, but also, barely anyone knew who he was… yet. Borat Subsequent MovieFilm addresses this head on, and thankfully he’s made a film that is smart in its execution and is consistently entertaining, tasteless, and funny, with some laughs landing a bit harder than others. This isn’t quite the revelation that the first one is, but lord knows we could do with a laugh, and Baron Cohen has not disappointed on that front.
What has Borat been up to since 2006? Well, as he tells us in the opening, his first adventure to the United States was a great hit in the US, but it brought great shame to his homeland of Kazakhstan. As punishment, Borat has been serving time in a Kazakhstani goo-lag. Soon though, an opportunity arrives: if Borat travels to America to offer Vice President Mike Pence a sacred monkey (said monkey is said to be the top porn star in Kazakhstan) then he will be relieved of his punishment. And if he doesn’t, then he will die a miserable torturous death.
For reasons I won’t even begin to dive into, Borat is joined by his estranged daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), and the monkey is out of the picture. Yet Borat realizes early on that he can just offer Tutar to Pence instead, so she joins him along his escapades and shenanigans. The film is done in the same style as its predecessor, but with a difference: this time, Baron Cohen is in disguise, within a disguise, because he knows that he’s capable of being recognized. That, and he has a partner.
Borat Subsequent MovieFilm is Baron Cohen’s funniest solo outing since Bruno, which I liked more than most. His previous comedy, The Brothers Grimsby, was a mix of funny and torturous. Baron Cohen has a gift with making raunchy funny, but he was somewhat unsuccessful with that film (if the sight of an elephant orgy sounds funny, honestly, it wasn’t). Borat Subsequent MovieFilm is more of a step in the right direction.
It’s funny, with some laughs being bigger than others, but it just about all works. Baron Cohen hasn’t lost his touch after all these years, and he slides back into the role quite comfortably. Mind you, this isn’t quite as funny as the original film. Borat was a work of genius, in that not only was consistently, shockingly hilarious, but also in that he was much more sly the previous time in terms of exposing delusional Americans. This time, he makes his target quite clear… but you also can’t really blame him, and it’s also still funny.
Borat Subsequent MovieFilm doesn’t hold back. Your jaw will hit the floor, and it will make you uncomfortable… even as your laughing uncontrollably, at times. Then, of course, there’s also the much discussed sequence with Rudy Guiliani. Again, prepare for the discomfort.
The real surprise here though in the end is Bakalova. In ways, she’s very much Baron Cohen’s equal, and there’s even a bit of warmth thrown into the proceedings near the final act. That, and there’s an unexpected twist that really sticks the landing. Borat Subsequent MovieFilm is not quite Borat, but it is funny, and it’s that rare sequel that we’ve always wanted, we just weren’t expecting.