Borat (2006): One of Year’s Funniest Films

One of the goofiest comedies around, “Borat,” the star vehicle of Sacha Baron Cohen, has something to offend everyone: Jews, Christians, gays, gypsies, country rodeos, and even bears.

For those of you unfamiliar with Borat, he is one of the three characters Sacha Baron Cohen portrays on Da Ali G Show. I met Sacha Baron Cohen twice, in May at the Cannes Film Festival, on the Martinez Hotel Beach, walking around in his (in)famous green tights (see photo), and in San Siego’s Comic-Con during the Fox studio panel. On both occasions, he was hilariously witty and wittily hilarious.

Some of you may have seen him recently in a supporting role in the smash comedy hit, “Talladega Nights,” stealing almost every scene he was in from Will Ferrell and the other comedians.

In Larry Charles’s “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” S.B. Cohen plays a reporter from Kazakhstan, named Borat Sagdiyev, a perpetually upbeat, seldom defeatable mustached TV reporter who’s in the U.S. to learn about our country’s peculiar norms and mores, hence the title, which in length, matches the subtitle of Kubrik’s “DR. Strangelove” (f you don’t know it, look it up now).

This is very much a family affair. S.B. Cohen
is the movie’s star, producer, and co-writer (with Jay Roach), and Erran Baron Cohen has composed the music, some of which is excellent.

There’s a first for every comedic element and here it’s in the form of an obese man stark naked on top of a naked Borat, with his testicles and ass rubbing against Borats face, as the two men compete over who is allowed to jerk off to cheesy sex icon Pamela Anderson (who appears in the picture).

S.B. Cohen’s fans will embrace the movie enthusiastically. Bigger question is, how will the Rating Board take this (and other) sequences the film has not been viewed by the MPAA yet.

At 82 minutes, “Borat” is a good-natured mockumentary, in which half of the targets are “safely” chosen; the other half explode with ferocious energy and uproarious humor. Though the material is uneven, the movie contains enough caustic interactions and sharp observations to please larger audiences than S.B. Cohen’s TV fans.

The yarn begins in Borat’s village, which he soon leaves on a fact-finding, sort of an anthropological, mission to America. His subsequent road trip is sustained by insatiable curiosity about American mores, and, as noted, his sudden passion for Baywatch’s sex symbol, Pamela Anderson.

Unfolding as a series of encounters with archetypal Americans, the movie aims at both individuals and social institutions, such as country rodeos, gospel meetings, and TV studios. Basically, a series of sketches, some funnier than others, “Borat” contains enough verbal and visual gags to sustain the interest for its brief duration.

Constantly open to new experiences, Boart is shocked at some of the home truths he “discovers” in his travels and troubles, from the luxury of indoor sanitation to the vulgar rudeness of New Yorkers, faced by a foreigner who just wants to be warm and nice to them.

You may resent the comedy’s slight attitudinizing, which asks us to laugh at the preposterous naivete (and borderline stupidity) of a primitive foreigner from a backward country, but the movie is quick to balance that with poignant barbs at America’s endless follies and shortcomings

One of the satire’s strongest sequences is when Borat gives a rabble-rousing address to a rodeo, claiming he supports the war on terrorism, but then he turns the crowds against him as he sings a version of the Kazakhstan national anthem to the tune of the American national anthem (a barb that’s perhaps addressed at recent news reports of the increasing number of Latinos who sing the American anthem in Spanish).

A master of accents (he did French in “Talladega Nights”), physical comedy, and impersonations, Sacha Baron Cohen recalls the late Peter Sellers and his facility with divergent accents and disguises.

Rude, raunchy, timely, and ridiculously funny, as a culture-collision picture, “Borat” is everything that Albert Brooks’ tame and lame “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” should have been.