Review: Borat returns with comedic vulgarity but overdone narrative

Sacha Baron Cohen returns to wreak havoc on unsuspecting strangers while posing as a fictional Kazakh journalist.

Following the 2006 release of “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” enthusiasts of the film had to wait an excruciating 14 years for the sequel. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” maintains the crude humor and public pranking, but cannot quite reach the high comedic bar set by the first film.

Sacha Baron Cohen delivers an iconic performance as Borat Sagdiyev, a television journalist from Kazakhstan determined to redeem the reputation of his country in the eyes of the United States. He decides the best way to do this is to give his 15-year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) as a “gift” to Vice President Mike Pence.

Although the main plot is fictional, the movie is unique in that most people on-screen are not actors. Rather, they are unsuspecting strangers who are under the impression that Borat and his crew are creating a truthful documentary. Is this ethical? That’s debatable. Nonetheless, it’s a major contributor to the comedic nature of Borat’s interactions with the confused public.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” blends the perfect balance of lowbrow and highbrow comedy. The extremely crude — and at times repulsive — humor resembles the first film, chock-full of jokes about Jewish culture, incest, prostitution and “sexy time.” In other words, anyone sensitive to dark humor will not be a fan of Borat. But for other viewers, the obscene comedy is as hilarious as it is shocking. The sequel was purposefully released on Oct. 23, shortly before Election Day, with plenty of references to current events and jabs at politicians. And yes, that uncomfortable scene with Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was real.

That all being said, compared to the original “Borat” film, the sequel has significantly less laughable moments. There is more time devoted to developing the plot, yet for audiences expecting the constant punches from Borat’s vulgarity, there is too much unnecessary narrative. The action fails to keep a consistent momentum, at times slowing to a meaningless trickle as the viewer waits for the humor to return. Heartwarming moments are just plain off-putting when jammed between racist political rallies and sexual innuendos.

When Tutar is added to the storyline, the new character takes away screen time from the movie’s defining character. Bakalova does create a quirky character that is comedic in her own way, yet no actor could ever match the distinct energy Cohen brings. Cohen even remained in character for five days straight while living with a pair of conspiracy theorists.

By far, the most creatively crafted scene occurs after Tutar accidentally swallows a mini plastic baby from the cupcake that Borat gave her. He rushes his daughter to a women’s health center, which in actuality is an anti-abortion pregnancy center. Cohen then gets a golden moment to bring on the obscene irony, explaining that he wanted to “give [his] daughter pleasure” and is the one who “put the baby inside her.” It’s difficult to watch without bursting out in laughter.

In its entirety, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” rekindles the crude humor Borat is known for but doesn’t quite live up to the expectations for an onslaught of hilarity. The storyline matches the characters but diverges too far from the absurdity in a weak attempt at an emotional narrative. Nonetheless, Cohen impressively carries the movie on his shoulders. But he probably won’t impress Mike Pence.

Edited by Chloe Konrad | ckonrad@themaneater.com

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