It’s been 14 years since Sasha Baron Cohen unleashed Borat to the world of movies and the world in general in the feature film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006).
A lot has happened since then.
For one thing, Borat has spent most of the time in a forced labor camp digging ditches in waist-deep mud.
It’s what happens when you fail your country and that country happens to be under the rule of a cruel dictator.
That kind of experience can certainly take the edge off your comedic sensibility. And that appears to be the case with the sequel Borat Subsequent MovieFilm.
In fairness, I’ll be the first to admit that the first Borat film was an outrageous string of tasteless, offensive, envelope-pushing, eyebrow-raising comic gags.
I’ll also admit that I laughed so hard that I actually had tears coming from my eyes.
I’m referring to the scene when Borat and his hairy, overweight, naked associate chased around a hotel full of horrified onlookers as they argued and wrestled.
It was a guilty pleasure. You either “got it” or you didn’t.
There was no middle ground when it came to Borat and his antics.
Understandably, I was excited about the release of a Borat sequel.
The trailer seemed to indicate that Sasha Baron Cohen was back at it again, with a vengeance.
I was particularly amused about the introduction of a new character--Borat’s homely 15-year old daughter.
Even more amusingly, the story involved a ludicrous plot involving Borat’s attempt to hook her up with the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.
I was all in.
Prior to screening the movie, I started hearing some news buzz about Rudy Giuliani loudly protesting about his brief appearance in the film.
He tweeted “at no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate,” all while lying on a hotel bed following an interview with Borat’s daughter Tutar who was posing as a television reporter.
More than ever, I was all in.
I could only imagine what Sacha Baron Cohen had dreamed up.
As it turned out, Giuliani most definitely was shown lying on a hotel bed with his hand stuffed down the front of his trousers.
Publicly, he insisted he was only tucking in his shirt, something that most men do standing up.
Strangely, it followed a creepily awkward scene in which Guiliani repeatedly touches Tutar in an attempt to calm her nerves prior to the interview.
As with most scenes in a Borat movie, it’s really up to the viewer to decide.
Whatever the case, you wonder about the bigger question of why Rudy Giuliani would ever consent to appear in this movie in the first place.
You would imagine that he, or one of his staff would have vetted the interview and known what they were in for.
There was a similar moment in the original Borat movie involving a politician who seems cluelessly unprepared for Baron Cohen and his merciless brand of humor. It was puzzling.
You wondered how anyone could be naïve enough to think that Borat, with his offbeat appearance, fake accent and offensive line of questioning, could possibly be legitimate or real.
Much of the humor in the original film was puzzling in retrospect.
Watching it for the first time, you were never really sure if the unfortunate victims of Borat’s chicanery were truly unsuspecting and naïve pawns or whether they were willing accomplices who were part of the show.
The gags seemed just too outrageous to be believed, but the expressions of shock and disbelief seemed genuine. The movie walked a fine line.
This time around, the comedy set-ups seem more obviously coordinated and staged for the camera. And that takes a little fun out of the equation.
The vulgarity is still there.
What’s lacking is the suspension of disbelief that Borat has the nerve to actually do what he is purporting to do.
It’s telling that there is no hint of a film crew (or film crews) in this sequel. The camera or cameras are just omniscient as they are in all non-documentary films.
You never have a sense that anyone is recording what is going on. We just happen to be there. And we just happen to see all of the unfolding outrageousness and all the horrified reactions.
What began as edgy, preposterous stunts in the original film that seemed real at times, morphed into something more controlled and restrained in the follow-up film.
Borat Subsequent MovieFilm is a comedy film calculated to be released during this election season.
It pokes irreverent jabs at Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Mike Pence and the aforementioned Rudy Giuliani. In that sense it is political and very much anti-Trump.
It’s what you’d expect from a rebellious, liberal-minded, anti-establishment bad-ass comedian like Sasha Baron Cohen.
What was so shocking and insanely funny in the first film is precisely what’s missing in this sequel.
We’ve seen this all before. It’s the reason that there are very few successful movie comedy sequels. Think about it.
That isn’t to say that Borat fans won’t enjoy this sequel. They just won’t enjoy it as much as the first one.
Granted, the gag-inducing gags are back. There are leather chairs fashioned out of human skin (including private parts).
There are incest jokes. There is a particularly repulsive scene in which Tutar performs an embarrassingly exhibitionistic fertility dance on the worst night of her menstrual cycle.
Despite the excessiveness of that particular scene, Borat’s teenage daughter is a worthy addition to the cast of characters.
Maria Bakalova is a scene-stealer.
Her transformation from homely peasant girl to glammed-up gold-digging debutante is one of the movie’s saving graces.
It’s not enough to save this movie, or even bring it to the level of the original film, but it is on the short list (very short list) of reasons you might want to check out this crazy comedy from Kazakhstan’s most famous export.
Borat: Subsequent MovieFilm is in theaters and on Amazon Prime Video.
Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios. Copyright courtesy of Amazon Studios.