Into a tinderbox world drops a lit match in a mankini. With pandemic conspiracy theories running rife and a US election set to be decided by democratic suppression and sheer volume of lies, you have to question the wisdom of letting Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh imbecile Borat loose in such inflammatory times. Trumpists stick by their guy more vehemently the dumber he’s made to look; conspiracists only ever double down on their Bill Gates hate if you expose it as baseless and ludicrous. Minds can only be entrenched these days, rarely changed, so will the new movie from this grinning, incest-mangled prodder of prejudices only serve to rile the idiots over the edge?
Perhaps we’re excited about Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, out today on Amazon Prime Video, because some evil part of us wants to watch chaos reign. Or maybe, more than ever before, we could just do with a proper laugh. In his short skits embedded in Da Ali G Show, Borat seemed an aimless bit-player struggling for the same sort of clarity and purpose as the headline act. But after 2002’s scripted folly Ali G Indahouse reduced the character to the level of scatological Carry On, the first Borat film was a revelation. Easily among the funniest films ever made, it reduced the premiere this writer saw to a watery wreck, the wrestling scene alone putting Christian Bale’s dedication to physical distress in the name of a role to shame.
Since Borat is now too well-known to get away with the same level of infiltration and subterfuge, Subsequent Moviefilm finds him taking on a series of disguises in order to accost anyone more important than a shop assistant. At a right-wing rally in Washington, Baron Cohen disguised himself as a bluegrass redneck to lead the crowd in sing-alongs of “Obama, what we gonna do? Inject him with the Wuhan flu!” Then he had to dress as Trump himself to interrupt Mike Pence’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. The well-publicised Giuliani sting was carried out primarily by 24-year-old Maria Bakalova, playing Borat’s feral 15-year-old daughter turned news reporter, who managed to lure him into a hotel room full of secret cameras and capture the former mayor of New York reaching into his trousers while reclining on the bed. This part of the ‘interview’ was swiftly terminated as soon as Borat ran into the room shouting, “She’s 15! She’s too old for you!” wearing what Giuliani described as “ a crazy… pink transgender outfit.” Giuliani has since responded to the news, calling it “a complete fabrication” and saying Baron Cohen is a “stone-cold liar” if he suggests otherwise.
All of this adds to the more dislocated look and feel of the new film – a similar vibe to Baron Cohen’s recent hit-and-miss series Who Is America? Luckily, Subsequent Moviefilm is loaded with enough laughs, albeit not quite as many as in the first movie, to make us forget about the horrors of the pandemic and stop Twitter-spatting with COVID deniers for a least as long as it takes to source a replacement kidney. And, as provocative as Borat’s presence is in 2020, we’ve never needed him more.
Baron Cohen’s other major characters were designed to raise guards. Ali G was always a relatively juvenile exercise in testing the patience of informed authority figures in the face of obstinate idiocy. Bruno set out to full-frontally provoke his targets by squeezing their own bigotry into overtight rubber chaps and ‘schtuppen’ them firmly in the face with it; camply asking a gay conversion minister if it was against God’s word to watch Will & Grace, and so forth (answer: “it’s ungodly”). One played on frustration, the other on confrontation; the comedy was in watching the hostilities play out.
Borat’s genius, on the other hand, is in his simple-minded relatability. He mimics an archaic patriarchal culture where racism, misogyny, male dominance and casual violence are respectable norms, so when he admits with such guile-free openness to his inherent, inborn homophobia, sexism or anti-Semitism he’s able to instantly shred through heartland America’s paper-thin veneer of decency and high-five the rot beneath. His targets feel simultaneously superior to his primitive ‘foreign-ness’ and envious of his medieval culture and freedom to express opinions they resent having to suppress. So, camera or no camera, with a relieved chuckle, the poison rises.
Arriving just weeks before the election, it’s fanciful to think that Subsequent Moviefilm might help wake America up to its moral and ideological decline while there’s still time to save itself. But the mindset of Trump’s America so closely aligns with Borat’s world that he’s perfectly placed to cheerily prise away its facade of respectability in the hope of making some sort of a difference.
Hatred bubbles so close to the surface of the US right wing, and Trump’s blatant racism and sexism has basically given them the green light to indulge it publicly, that there must be hordes of rancid politicians ripe for tipping over the edge into disgrace and humiliation. Just as Baron Cohen, in the guise of Who Is America?’s ex-Mossad agent Erran Morad, sank the career of Republican state representative Jason Spencer by convincing him, surprisingly easily, to scream ethnic slurs and practise turning terrorists gay with his bare arse.
The makers of Borat 2 have included more political pranks besides Giuliani, some of which they believe may derail careers and involve long-running lawsuits. So the impact of one single man’s desire to cause a stir in the high offices of America might not just provide the laugh we need right now. He might just help rebuild glorious nation of United States completely.