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|Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Larry Charles|
scr Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer
with Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson, Kathie B Griffin, Pat Haggerty, Bobby Rowe, Michael Psenicka, Jim Sell, Alan Keyes, Bob Barr, Chip Pickering, Guy Borges
release UK/US 3.Nov.06
06/US Fox 1h22
Two thumbs, way up: Baron Cohen
Unlike his silly Ali G character, Baron Cohen's Borat has always been hard to stomach--a cheap joke that goes too far. And while this film will indeed insult almost everyone, it's also genuinely hilarious.
TV presenter Borat Sagdiyev (Baron Cohen) lives in racist-sexist bliss in rural Kazakhstan. His next assignment is to visit New York with his producer Azamat (Davitian). But Manhattan can't contain him, and soon he's off on a cross-country odyssey with a specific goal: to marry Pamela Anderson in Malibu. Along the way he's coached in American humour and etiquette, visits a rodeo and a church rally, and basically shocks everyone to the core.
Baron Cohen is so good that he vanishes within this character, and the film's documentary structure blurs the line between staged scenes and actual commando-style satire in which he assaults unsuspecting people with Borat's mind-bogglingly offensive ignorance. Why he chose Kazakhstan as the butt of these jokes is anyone's guess (surely he's on a death list there), but the fact remains that for all of Borat's misguided wrongness, he's still strangely likeable.
More worrying are two points where the film crosses the line into contemptuous disrespect. The first is also the film's strongest, most important sequence, as Borat visits a rodeo and discovers a crowd full of bloodthirsty homophobes, who he quickly gets braying for the blood of "every man, woman and child" in the Middle East ("We support your war of terror," he says, to roaring applause). But when he starts singing his ludicrous Kazakh National Anthem to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, he deeply insults everyone in both countries. The second scene is an extended Pentecostal church service, which Cohen infiltrates; the problem is that religion is a far too personal thing for such simplistic point-and-laugh ridicule.
This isn't to say that no one else will be offended, but other jabs are much more generous--and razor sharp. It's in these scenes that the film becomes much more than just a painfully funny, politically incorrect comedy. The filmmakers are confronting American earnestness and prudishness, and they cut to the core of things like government blather, shallow Southern hospitality, brainless frat-boy antics, ingrained fear and true ignorance.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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