The Pitch: Sacha Baron Cohen’s trojan horse/folk hero Borat Sagdiyev returns to America. Is nice.
After disgracing his native Kazakhstan as the result of his successful 2006 motion picture, the once-famous journalist is asked to curry favor with President McDonald Trump’s good friend, United States Vice President Mike Pence (“Michael Pennis”) in the form of a gift: an animal. Borat must give Johnny the Monkey, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture and No. 1 porn star, to Pence. But there’s a snag. Inside Johnny’s crate is a stowaway named Tutar (Maria Bakalova), Borat’s 15-year-old daughter. Borat decides to offer his daughter to Pennis instead, a notorious “pussy hound” who can’t even be in the same room as women.
When the plan fails — and we can explain why in a moment — Borat and Tutar, with the Kazakhstan government’s blessing, decide to offer her to up to another of Trump’s boys, Rudy Giuliani. This kicks off an American odyssey and road comedy similar to the last film, except, man, America’s gotten so much fucking worse. Southern abortion clinics. Republican women’s committee meetings. An anti-mask rally full of white supremacists. Just a few of the many stressful pit stops on Borat and Tutar’s wild ride.
Woe Woe Wee Wah: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’s faults are twofold. For one, sequelitis. Like any beloved comedy creation — Powers, Partridge, Clouseau — the second verse is a little louder and a little worse. (Lookie, Borat’s got Polaroids of dicks again! Guys??) The element of surprise is harder to achieve. The character, for all intents and purposes, is being run into the ground, and the love of a million frat boys hasn’t helped.
Two? Making a Borat now, right now, to goof on American ugliness when it’s become so vast is daunting if not outright deadening beyond a point.
Still, Subsequent Moviefilm has a few belly laughs to offer. A couple of tricks up its wrinkly sleeve. It works its ass off to lampoon this very minute in the US, but the current mood is just too fraught. Maybe this will be funnier in a few months. But in a way, watching Cohen take rightful aim at America’s worst just feels like it’s no longer worth it. It leaves a queasy feeling and not because anti-Semitic demonstrators and pro-life preachers are undeserving. No, it’s that they simply will not and do not care when fringe politics have mutated into such a shameless entity. But Cohen tries and nearly perishes in the effort.
Sort of Niiiiiice: But let’s talk about the good stuff. If you watched Da Ali G Show, or quoted the bejeezus out of Borat, then Subsequent Moviefilm should arrive with a modicum of yuks. When the film goes for broke, particularly with the prank material involving Pence and Giuliani, Cohen’s as fearless as he’s ever been. The wordplay, the mispronunciations, and the faux-barbarism of the film’s Kazakhs all still draw titters. Nobody asked for a Dog the Bounty Hunter sight gag this year, but Borat 2 offers a really good one. And Pence, delivering an “all is well” COVID-19 speech to ghoulish Republicans at the 2020 CPAC conference, is wildly interrupted by Cohen in a Stay Puft-sized Trump costume. Cohen drags his platinum-blonde daughter over his shoulders, screaming that he’s got a woman for Pence. The veep’s constipated face is, as they say, priceless. And why not share this one? Cohen also walks into that conference in a Klan robe. He’s Stephen Miller, he shouts.
And spoiler? They get Rudy on camera. He’s a pig, and the footage is genuinely shocking.
It can’t be stated loudly enough: this kind of dressing-down is a public service. Cohen’s become less of a jester and more of a disruptor in recent years. He’s chaotic good. But a weird feeling of dread creeps into the film as it unfolds. Cohen has always aimed his shtick at “real” people, and here they are, for worse. Giuliani gives so many repulsive and delusional interviews that he may not even remember this. He’ll claim he was duped if it gets real traction. His base will stand by proudly.
The pastor at a Carolina women’s clinic, who refuses to aid with an abortion for Tutar when she “has a baby in her” (she swallows a plastic one)? Well, he believes prayer and carrying the child to term are the only answers, even after assuming Borat is the father. The man condones incest on camera and probably still does today. The anti-mask rally that Borat sings at, later in the movie, where he sings about gassing people like the Germans? There are an awful lot of neckbeards onscreen who seem especially into what Borat has to say. The pastry chef who writes “The Jews Will Not Replace Us” on a cake in cursive for Borat? She’s probably written worse. Even if you’re willing to extend the assumption that some of these people are plants, it cuts far too close. It slices into the comedy in an unexpected way, but not necessarily a good or effective one.
Cohen still has it in fits and starts. That “pedo radar” from Who Is America really ruffled feathers. He’s a performer of chameleonic qualities; see his immersive, anarchic turn in The Trial of the Chicago 7 for a nice contrast. But applying his talents to a sporadically funny, 90-minute SNL political cold open of a film is a little bit of a bummer.
Verdict: Is nice. But it could have been niiiiiicer.
Where’s It Playing? Borat Subsequent Moviefilm arrives on Amazon Prime October 23rd.