Thursday, November 09, 2006

Borat: Not for the Slightly Uptight or Politically Correct

Painfully Funny, But Jokes Taken a Bit Too Far for Comfort of Audience

By Graham Moes
Graybrook Institute Film Critic

I hate being that guy ... The one who doesn't "get it." The killjoy who can't take a joke and just laugh along with everybody else without being so "uptight."

Mostly because I do get it. And I did laugh along with everybody else, probably harder than most. I just felt a little dirty afterward.

I'm talking about Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And if the title alone doesn't make you grin, you're probably no fun either; and boy, do I wish I wasn't standing on your side of the line here.

It's the reality-blurring mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the funniest of his HBO-show alter egos, Borat Sagdiyev, a fictional Kazakhstani reporter who wouldn't know the meaning of "politically incorrect" if he walked up and pinched it in the rear end — which would be tame compared to the outrages on Jews, women and general good taste he perpetrates in his film incarnation.

Cohen specializes in what the great Phil Hendrie has been doing on radio for years, portraying an extreme character operating in the real world for the express purpose of getting a rise out of those who aren't in on the joke. Or, when lured into agreeing with his smiling, dopey bigotry, exposing them for what they are.

Call it ambush comedy. And potent stuff it is. Using a mangled mix of Polish, Romanian and Armenian vocabulary, he's a painfully funny dead ringer for the real deal.

No wonder the government of Kazakhstan is this close to ordering Cohen's assassination at this point for portraying them as a nation of Stone-Age racists, drunks, rapists and general morons. (At a recent press conference outside the Kazakhstan embassy, Borat denounced as evil Uzbekistani propaganda the notion his country's national drink is not fermented horse urine, then threatened to strike back "with all our catapults.")

The movie gives the Jewish, Cambridge-educated Cohen a chance to string together his best bits from "Da Ali G Show" and earlier British TV incarnation into a road trip across America, where he goofs on everyone from feminists and frat boys to militant gays and charismatic Christians.

The problem is, a movie also dangles Cohen the tempting carrot to push things even beyond his HBO-issued license to offend.

Again, I get it. The antisemitic gags are meant to lampoon antisemitism itself, but the extremes Cohen takes things to here often go too far.

At a Kazakh hometown "Running of the Jew" event (funny), he's seen urging on the village children to kill the symbolic Jew Egg before it hatches (maybe not so funny), and later, when the village converts to Christianity, they hang one on a cross (definitely not funny).

When taken in by a kindly old Jewish couple, he compares them to cockroaches, tosses money at them and flees in the night. Ouch.

Then there's some seriously unsexy full-frontal nudity, pedophilia jokes, defecation gags and other stuff I won't go into. Beware, too, the all-nude smackdown between Borat and his 400-pound producer after Borat catches him with his sacred Pamela Anderson magazine.

Borat's appeal has always been his willingness to skewer sacred PC cows, but in moments like these we realize Cohen has slid from sharp, edgy satire into easy, ultra-cheap laughs.

Also problematic is the fact most of the best stuff in the 82-minute experience can be found already, for free, on

In another recent review, I compared Cohen to Peter Sellers. Sadly this outing has knocked him down closer to Cheech and Chong.

But if all this still seems like the grumblings of a prude... feel free to take your chances. You may laugh yourself silly. Just be prepared to hate yourself in the morning.


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 5
  • Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
  • Director: Larry Charles
  • Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer
  • Released by: 20th Century Fox
  • Rating: Rated R for pervasive strong, crude and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
  • Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

This review first appeared in The Clovis Independent on Nov. 3, 2006.

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