The gags aim lower and the pranks seem more labored. The effort shows, as does the scripted fakery.
It’s harder for Sacha Baron Cohen to go anywhere looking like “stupid reporter” from Kazakhstan. Everyone, save for elderly Republicans and rural rubes, recognizes him.
Perhaps Sacha Baron Cohen and his “Borat,” “Bruno” and “Dictator” muse Larry Charles had run their course together. But “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” shows that Charles’ replacements — director Jason Woliner and seven credited writers (aside from Cohen) — aren’t a substitute for the furiously funny foil Cohen used to have around to bounce ideas off of.
And yes, the Rudy Giuliani sting is icky and funny, and is being somewhat oversold.
But “Subsequent Moviefilm,” coming fourteen years after “Borat,” still manages to find a few big, cringe-worthy laughs among America’s bigots and brainwashed Trumpists. Cohen is still able to hold up a mirror on country music/”Dog: The Bounty Hunter”/One America News nation and let us see how hilariously stupid and venal we can be.
The set-up — Borat (Cohen) gets out of prison after being locked up for years for “bringing shame to Kazakhstan.” The premier wants him to travel to America with a gift to bribe Trump, friend to the rest of the world’s “strong men” dictators.
It doesn’t go well. But at least he’s brought the daughter (Maria Bakalova) he never realized he had along for the journey. Well, she stowed away. And she “ate” the intended bribe-gift. But maybe Trump, or Mike Pence, will accept the 15 year-old as a gift, instead.
There are many gags about the value of women “where I come from,” and Borat’s and daughter Turat’s discovery that in America, women can drive cars and speak their minds.
A makeover is in order, suggested by an “Internet influencer” and “sugar baby.”
A debutante “consultant” is consulted, and a Macon, Georgia father-daughter cotillion is disrupted.
A bakery “accident” leads to the ingestion of a plastic decoration that only a “women’s counseling clinic” (Fundamentalists pretending to be an ob-gyn practice where women can obtain a legal abortion).
A Pence speech at CPAC is disrupted, as is a Republican Women meeting.
And then, there’s the COVID quarantine Borat talks a couple of fiftyish, Deep South and deep-down-the-rabbit-hole Fox News cultists/gun nuts/conspiracy loons into letting him share.
By the time Giuliani shows up, declaring in an interview with the 15 year-old Turat that “The Chinese manufactured the virus and spread it around the world,” Borat and daughter have traced the misinformation from the dunces who believe it to the frauds who feed it to them.
The film’s sentimental streak comes from the father learning his daughter is “human being,” and from having to give up Kazakhstan’s most cherished historical moment, “The Holocaust,” not because — as he learns on FACEBOOK — “it is hoax.” Borat’s eye-opening moment comes when he dresses “as Jew” and goes to a Synagogue in despair.
He is threatened with death back home if his mission fails, so he shows up as a Pinocchio-nosed, Hasidic-bearded, devil-tailed (and finger-nailed) “Jew” to end it all in a house of worship.
“Use your venom on me,” he tells two elderly Holocaust survivors. “I am very depressed.”
Cohen’s many disguises are lightly amusing, but the stand-out performance here is by the Bulgarian actress Bakalova. She is brazen. She is committed. She goes all-in on a string of shock-value stunts of ever-escalating vulgarity. And she pulls off the sexily-dressed teen “interviewing” Giuliani with convincing naivete and aplomb.
“I really feel like Melania right now!”
The topicality — filming this well into the COVID outbreak and shutdown — and eagerness to offend are what recommend “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm.” It’s a fun character to revisit and an important time to bring him back.
Watch the original pre-Obama “Borat” and see how it predicted American decline due to gullibility and Trump-inflamed bigotry.
But there’s plenty of evidence here as well that it’s time for Cohen to let the cheap suit and outrageous accent go.
MPAA Rating: R (Graphic Nudity|Strong Crude & Sexual Content|Language)
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova and Rudolph Giuliani
Credits: Directed by Jason Woliner, script by Sacha Baron Cohen, Erica Rivinoja, Jena Friedman, Dan Swimer, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Peter Baynham and Anthony Hines.
Running time: 1:35