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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

(2006) *** 1/2 R
82 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Larry Charles. Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Kenneth Davitian, Luenell.

No film in the history of cinema has succeeded in being more "outrageously funny" than the satirical, defiantly un-P.C. mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's long-practiced character of Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev is in his imperturbability as he spews racist, sexist, and homophobic invective, but also in that his outrageousness doesn't meet with outrage as often as you'd think.

Cohen begins his international assault in "Kazakhstan," depicted as nothing but a poor, dirty, rural backwater. There, in humorously garbled English, Borat proudly tells the camera that he's from a long line of rapists, that his sister is "number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan," and that his nation is glorious despite a few problems: "economic, social, and Jew." Cohen, who is Jewish, depicts Kazakhstan as uncivilized in every way, especially its supposed virulent anti-Semitism and savage lack of sexual and hygenic boundaries.

A publicly unrepentant Cohen probably feels obligated to stay true to the character he established on Da Ali G Show, so despite Kazakhstan's best efforts to embrace its Jewish population and rehabilitate the image Cohen presents, Borat won't be renouncing his citizenship any time soon. The performer obviously intends this unfair depiction of Kazakhstan to be part of the satire, lampooning backwards notions wherever they appear. Given the skewering of America that follows, Cohen and co-screenwriters Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, and Dan Mazer may also mean their extremity subversively to mock the Western tendency to caricature any non-Western culture.

Even if you don't give the filmmakers that much credit, Borat focuses on thoroughly embarrassing American values. Borat—a dim bulb in any country—craps in front of Trump Tower and masturbates to fashion ads in the street. America baffles him, but he quickly falls in love with its plenty and, in particular, its greatest beauty: Pamela Anderson. Reverently wrapping Baywaytch: The Official Scrapbook in velvet, Borat pledges to find and win the beauty whose "red water panties" give him a "romance explosion."

Cohen and director Larry Charles (Curb Your Enthusiasm) integrate staged scenes with the highlights of Da Ali G Show: caught-on-tape encounters of Borat with real people. At a real Virginia rodeo, Borat amiably chats with the proprietor about killing homosexuals, then whips up the crowd in a patriotic frenzy by celebrating America's supposed goal of killing "every man, woman, and child in the Middle East" in what Borat praises as our "war of terror" (led, of course, by "mighty US warlock premier Bush"). For an encore, Borat mangles two national anthems at once. Cohen wants the edge on your laughs, his reckless humor leaving an unsettling aftertaste.

In one hilarious setpiece after another, Borat becomes the proverbial bull in the antique shop (literally, in one ruthless attack on Confederate memorabilia). Since subtlety isn't a priority, Cohen and Charles throw their anti-hero directly into the most volatile situations: he meets with feminists, etiquette and humor coaches, American politicans, the gay-pride crowd, and frat boys travelling in an RV (let's not even start in on the Pentecostal revival meeting Cohen crashes). Wisely, Cohen gives Borat a foil in stocky companion Azamat (Ken Davitian); a tussle between the two, late in the picture, proves the extraordinary lengths to which Cohen will go in their pursuit of delirium. No premise is too outrageous, and no decorous sensibility is safe.

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