Sunday, April 29, 2007

Borat (2006)

Director: Larry Charles

Borat may not be “the funniest movie of the year”, which is what some critics claim, but it does offer something different for fans of satire. Borat, played by Brit comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, comes to the U.S. and A. to report on what makes it the “greatest country in the world.” Borat hails from Kazakhstan, and makes good, comedic use of the cultural differences between countries. Cohen creates a character that, much like Napolean Dynamite, is much funnier than the environment or material he seems to drown in. Borat works in small doses, and with a clear objective. Simply driving across America to find out why it’s great perhaps should have been narrowed down to a more precise goal. People merely amused by the quirks of the character will not be let down, but those looking for a more clever observation may feel shortchanged.

He’s not distinctly Kazakhstani, and that makes it all the more relevant. He uses just about every aspect of a stereotypical foreigner to create an amalgam of stereotypes. The glimpse at America, particularly the South, is frightening to say the least. It’s compelling when Borat lets dimwitted people rant, and hangs back a little. They let their guard down when they feel they’re talking to someone who won’t label them as politically incorrect. It becomes less funny as it hangs on shock references and images too long. A lot of the bits sound funny when they’re explained, but as you watch them for a few minutes you might wonder why you’re laughing. Maybe it doesn’t matter why you’re laughing, though. If you take out the phallic material, Borat may not have a leg to stand on -- no pun intended. It's endlessly quotable, and simple enough for the teenage boy audience to indulge in it to a point of obsession. There’s enough to keep the college crowd amused, but fans of a more intelligent, British style of comedy may find it about as entertaining as a Benny Hill sketch that goes on for 80 minutes. Ironically, it’s the tour of Borat’s home in Kazakhstan that I found the most amusing. The tour, complete with “VCR” and a cow in the living room, makes more of a commentary on stereotypes than its surface elements of merely looking funny. One memorable scene has a telegram delivery man reading Borat’s message to him about the grim details of his wife’s demise while he has been away in America. “You mean my wife is dead?” Borat asks. “Let me see here…” the delivery man says as he frantically skims the letter for something positive to report.

It’s my opinion that, in comedy, there are no sacred cows; you should be able to make a joke about anything and everything. It’s all about when, where and how you make it. Borat certainly tries its hardest to tackle subjects such as retardation, anti-Semitism, sexual immorality, and a good dose of bathroom humor. It’s not that these jokes don’t work; it’s just that it needs to have more of a point behind it. I never want to feel like someone is talking about these things merely to shock others. But I guess that’s the whole point of Borat. He shocks us with what we consider taboo, when he finds it perfectly normal. There are a few missed opportunities as well. As Borat ventures into an Evangelical church, he goes on stage and accepts Jesus. I kept waiting for him to make some sort of reference or observation on religious activity in the U.S., but we’re merely supposed to be amused at them speaking in tongues. Some of the bits work, others make it hard to recommend. It certainly isn’t a “by the numbers” comedy, and Sacha Baron Cohen is a talented comedian. It definitely doesn’t live up to the hype, but it still offers a new style of comedy that you can’t blame them for trying.

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