Surprising no one and everyone at the same time, Sacha Baron Cohen is back as the affably offensive Kazakhstani journalist Borat in the much awaited sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Which begs the question, how well can a second movie based around the idea of pranking unwitting civilians continue to maintain any degree of relevance after the main character become so universally recognized as to be referenced in every conceivable piece of entertainment, from The Office to Cards Against Humanity? The answer, it turns out, it shockingly well. This is in part due to how little has changed over the past fourteen years. The first film emerged at a moment when America was being overtaken by the resurgence of xenophobic intolerance, a still nascent YouTube was fueling our increasingly unquenchable thirst for unearned media exposure, and the public’s shift to internet-based hostility helped us maintain the uniquely American gentility that allowed us to smile politely at even the most outrageous behavior rather than risk a confrontation with an actual, real-life person. While those trends have done nothing to slow down in the Trump era, Sasha Baron Cohen’s talent for incisive, provocation-based comedy and commitment to his absurd characters hasn’t diminished one iota either.
After the unprecedented success of the first film, which brought incredible shame to his home country of Kazakhstan, Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) finds himself digging ditches and having his crotch pummeled by carnival attractions as punishment for his carelessness. However, the Kazakh Premiere believes in second chances, and tasks Borat with the important mission of delivering a gift to the incredible American president, Donald Trump. The gift in question is Johnny, Kazakhstan’s biggest TV personality, Minister of Culture, and monkey. However, when Johnny’s crate arrives in America, Borat finds it occupied by a very dead monkey and his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova). In accordance with traditional Kazakhstani custom, Tutar has spent most of her life living in a cage and being ignored by her father. With his life and career on the line, Borat comes up with an ingenious Plan B: delivering his daughter as a new gift for Vice President and notorious ladies’ man, Mike Pence. Tutar is overjoyed by this plan, having grown up on books about the shame of womanhood and Disney-esque cartoons about the President. She has no greater dream in life than to live in a magnificent, golden cage, just like Princess Melania.
As the pair set out on their mission, the film follows a similar structure to the original, using scripted scenes between the main characters to move between a series of increasingly audacious pranks. One thing that has changed, of course, is Cohen’s ability to fool people with his alter ego. Thanks to the widespread popularity of the first film, Borat can’t even walk down the street pantsless without being recognized by autograph hungry fans. Cohen, forced to adapt to his own inescapable celebrity, ends up going full meta, disguising himself as Borat disguising himself as an American — complete with fat suit and grotesque facial hair. Under his double guises, Cohen accosts everyone he can, including a cell phone salesman, an Instagram Influencer/Sugar Baby, a hairdresser, a debutante coach, a plastic surgeon, and a faith-based crisis pregnancy center. And that’s just the first half hour. By the end of the film, he’s disrupted Pence’s speech at the 2020 CPAC convention, led a pro-gun rally in some overtly racist folk singing, and even managed to tarnish Rudy Giuliani’s reputation even more than the last four years already have.
Cohen’s original brand of satire is both high brow and low brow at the same time, relying heavily on profanity and shock value on the one hand, while somehow managing to make you think on the other. In typical Borat fashion, the humor is crass, offensive, but always ultimately pointed. While it would be easy to criticize Borat for portraying negative stereotypes and using an unparalleled amount of shockingly graphic and unsettlingly nonchalant hate speech, his willingness to make people uncomfortable is his greatest strength. By becoming this over-the-top caricature of a simple-minded foreigner, he manages to expertly shine a light on the hypocrisy of those who are truly intolerant, or are at least willing to silently comply with it. Whether it’s the anti-abortion counselor who tries to look past the fact that Borat has impregnated his own teenage daughter and focus on the real issue — God’s will — or the baker who barely bats an eye when asked to write “Jews will not replace us” on one of her cakes, Borat has an almost inhuman ability to walk into any scene as the worst person in the room without leaving that way.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
Not every film can feature multiple dick pics and successfully end on a positive message about voting, but Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is one of those rare gems. While it may not capture the fresh novelty of the original, it is a solid sequel that both honors and builds upon the strong foundation laid by its predecessor. Fans of the charmingly backwards character will be delighted by the fresh set of hijinks, and newcomers to the series will undoubtedly become converts, provided that they have strong stomachs, and don’t try to watch the movie with their parents.