Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Distributors: Amazon Studios & Prime Video
Production Companies: Four by Two Films & Oak Springs Productions
Director: Jason Woliner
Producers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines & Monica Levinson
Scriptwriters: Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja & Dan Swimer
Main Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen & Maria Bakalova
Released: October 23 2020
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Borat is a brilliant character that Sacha Baron Cohen plays perfectly. But his second film shows little craft or flair and falls flat as a result, making it a weak and tedious sequel.
Nobody was as primed for this film to be a success as I was. Having so enjoyed the original movie 14 years ago (was it really that long ago?!!), I was pumped when the sequel was announced. The juicy titbits of exposé and political figures in flagrante delicto trailed in the media stoked my curiosity and wholly whet my appetite.
It was a crushing blow to discover that Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest offering was less scandalous titillation and more of a 90-minute yawn-fest. Worst of all, having volunteered to review it, I couldn’t even switch over to something else; I was in for the long haul.
In order to understand the flaws of this sequel, you have to understand what made the original so good. At its heart, the original film wasn’t about a failed Kazhak journalist; it was about American people. Their prejudices, peccadilloes and peculiarities writ large by the way they reacted to this strange intruder from a foreign land. Borat acted only as a catalyst, a mole, our fly-on-the-wall giving us our own private peephole from which to perv on the sexism and xenophobia of our cultural overlords over the water. For me, the huge success of the original came from intoxicating mix of outrage and smug superiority that came from watching unsuspecting racists being lampooned without their knowledge by a Jewish Londoner with a stick-on moustache.
If the original was a film about Americans, the sequel was very much a film about Borat, or rather Borat and his debutante daughter Tutar, who is brought to life by the very competent Maria Bakalova. Scenes focused on real citizens were few and far between, and the multiple camera angles and switching POV constantly broke the fly-on-the-wall illusion, begging the question “how many times did they have to shoot this impromptu real-life scene?” Instead, what we got were extended daddy-daughter scenes exploring a relationships between two-dimensional characters trapped in a banal gross-out buddy/road trip movie.
These scenes were very much the analogue of the Pam Anderson story line stitched through the original (the weakest part of the original offer IMHO). Only this time, instead of being filler, they were given the main stage, much to the detriment of audience fulfilment. It’s almost as if they made a list of all the great bits of the first film and decided: “let’s do the other bits instead.”
It’s not even that they perform it badly. Both lead actors are strong, and Maria Bakalova even manages to bring some sense of journey to her characterisation – but fundamentally, Borat’s relationship with his daughter is not an interesting subject for a film.
The film starts well enough. Borat is at home in the mythical land of Kazakhstan (yes, I know it’s a real country, but it shares precious little in common with Baron Cohen’s fantastical conjuring). This is by far the strongest section of the film. A series of well-written sideswipes and character assassinations are enough to keep you laughing out loud, as long as you have a basic knowledge of US politics. But after this, the laughs gradually peter out.
The film picks many of the same targets as the previous incarnation: republican politicians, rich socialites, right wing ladies clubs, but the film fails to elicit anything like the reactions of its predecessor. In part, this is due to the outrageousness of the stunts. A scene in which Borat and his daughter attend a coming out ball with members of the upper crust is a solid example. The sequence starts promisingly enough with Borat (in disguise) raising a few eye brows with Trumpian lechery aimed at his own daughter. In the next scene, daddy and daughter cause embarrassed titters amongst the fore-assembled great and good as they eschew traditional ballroom dancing in favour of a traditional Kazak dance, hairy-armpits-and-all. “Classic Borat” you may think, all well and good, but it quickly descends into risible disappointment.
By the end of the dance, daughter Tutar is lying on her back, legs akimbo with a sanitary pad leaking all over her thighs and prodigious plumes of pubic hair thrust into the air. The faithful camera records as onlookers stare on in shock and bewilderment – but then, wouldn’t you? In an effort to one-up its own manufactured outrage, the film loses any sense of irony and the only thing it exposes is the actress.
This is very much the template for the rest of the film. Conspiratorial QAnon supporters come over as misguided but in the end, quite welcoming people as they volunteer to help a foreigner find his lost daughter; an anti-abortion doctor seems justifiably concerned but cool-headed as he tries to navigate an apparent case of pregnancy by incest; even Rudy Giuliani engenders sympathy as he is chatted up by a very flirtatious interviewer only to be interrupted by an incomprehensible Sacha Baron Cohen bursting in wearing lingerie. If there was one thing I didn’t expect this film to accomplish, it was making me feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani.
By the time we got to the clumsy editing being used to misrepresent a kind-hearted holocaust survivor, I didn’t even have the energy to be outraged. I was too bored. And that is probably the greatest indictment of all. Summing it up, Sacha’s self-indulgent Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is more chore than chortle.
Overall Rating: 3/10 – Flawed