We know what to expect from a new Borat movie: The Worst. We know it will be stunningly vulgar, packed with stunts and gags that seem guaranteed to generate a violent response. The satire will be so broad it offends fans as well as foes. It will be kind of disgusting, with lots of moments that don’t provoke a belly laugh but a thin chuckle through clenched teeth. And yet, Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays the idiotical reporter from Kazakhstan, still manages to surprise us.
It’s been 14 years since the first Borat adventure, made when George W. Bush was President. This sequel, which revels in the title: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, looks at an America that has grown exponentially crazier since then.
When Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, the rest of the world reacted with shock and disdain at a nation that could put a B-movie actor into the White House. Today Reagan is looked upon as a venerated elder statesman, who at least knew how to play the role of President. After four years of a reality TV star in the top job, America’s political and cultural landscape is a battlefield in which political opponents eye each other from their respective bunkers, preparing for the apocalypse. Under the influence of a President who is a compulsive liar and fantasist; bizarre conspiracy theories spread by social media; news channels that are nothing more than organs of propaganda, and now a deadly pandemic, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
It’s the perfect time for Borat to make a return trip to the United States! On his previous visit he set out to discover what Kazahkstan might learn from the greatest nation on earth. An unfortunate side effect was to bring down wholesale humiliation on his own country – which is why, when we meet Borat in this new film, he is breaking rocks in a quarry. His crime was to make Kazakhstan a global laughing stock.
He is overjoyed when suddenly released and summoned to see the ruler, Premier Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu). Nazarbayev has watched in envy as “McDonald Trump” makes friends with all the dictators of the world, and wonders how he has missed out. His reasoning is straightforward: his country needs to pay a big enough bribe to attract Trump’s attention. The rehabilitated Borat is ordered to travel to America and deliver the goods, as well as buying the leader a nice chocolate cake.
It’s difficult to think of anything in Kazakhstan that Trump might want, but Nazarbayev has decided to make a supreme sacrifice and send him Johnny the Monkey, a chimpanzee who stars in local porn movies.
Before setting out, Borat returns to his village to see his family, but it’s an unhappy reunion. A neighbour has moved into his house and his sons repudiate him. He gets a more positive response from his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), who is kept in a cage in the shed, which is the standard way daughters are raised. It is, incidentally, a barnstorming performance from the young Bulgarian actress, who proves herself every bit as fearless as Baron-Cohen.
When he arrives in the United States, Borat opens a big crate, only to find Tutar, who has smuggled herself on board. Unfortunately she also seems to have eaten Johnny the Monkey, although she swears he ate himself.
Fearing the leader’s reaction, Borat has to report the mishap but comes up with an acceptable alternative. He’ll hand over his daughter as a bribe to Vice-President Mike Pence, a man so obviously sex-crazed he can’t permit himself to be alone with any woman apart from his wife.
The rest of the movie is a series of rather disjointed episodes that show Borat’s efforts to foist his daughter – who dreams of a golden cage like Princess Melania’s – onto someone who has Trump’s ear. The story of Rudy Guiliani’s embarrassing take-down has already been splashed across the news media, but there are plenty of other moments that are even more cringeworthy.
Imagine Borat wearing a Donald Trump mask carrying his daughter over his shoulder into a Pence rally. Or Tutar telling a group of Republican wives about discovering her own vagina. Or Borat in country & western disguise, on stage at a rally in Texas, singing about injecting Trump’s enemies with the Wuhan Flu, and chopping up journos like the Saudis do. The audience is quick to join the chorus and sing along.
The standard expression at this point is: ‘You couldn’t make this stuff up.’ I’m still wondering how these scenes were captured on camera. I’m wondering how so many non-actors seemed to play along, either unwittingly or with tongue-in-cheek. Borat has no trouble, or instance, in getting a cake shop attendant to write an anti-Semitic message in blue icing.
One gets the impression of a nation of morally inert store owners who will go along with anything a customer says, if there’s a sale involved. The crowd that laughs at Borat’s song in Texas is the mere tip of Trump’s MAGA iceberg, filled with blind hatred of the President’s opponents, happy to see the political process broken to pieces. As for Giuliani, it’s a woeful picture of a narcissistic old slimeball who believes his power and prestige act as an aphrodisiac on a teenage reporter.
The film zeros in relentlessly on the treatment of women in Kazakhstan, but backs away to show Borat and Tutar bonding as father and daughter. The movie has Borat rhapsodising constantly about the Holocaust, but then visiting a synagogue, where he meets two compassionate, elderly Jewish ladies. These sentimental turnarounds are slightly surprising, suggesting that Baron-Cohen and his collaborators suffered from a failure of nerve when it came to pushing their scabrous humour to the limits. Did they fear a backlash from the humourless Politically Correct?
Borat’s abiding joke is that the United States, for all its wealth and power, is no less of a hillbilly haven, no less a bottomless sink of corruption, superstition and stupidity than the imaginary and much-maligned Kazakhstan. A vast audience of Americans will see this film and laugh at Borat’s outrageous behaviour, without the slightest awareness they are really laughing at themselves.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Directed by Jason Woliner
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria BaKalova, Dani Popescu
UK/USA rated MA15+, 95 mins
Published in the Australian Financial Review, 31 October, 2020