Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

(2020) *** 1/2 R
96 min. Amazon Prime Video. Director: Jason Woliner. Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova.

/content/films/5199/1.jpg[SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:] It’s a question that has bedeviled American comedians: how can one create significant satire in the shamelessly, transparently, patently absurd era defined by Donald J. Trump? Sacha Baron Cohen has the answer: don’t be an American comedian. Be a Kazakh journalist. Yes, after fourteen long years, Cohen's signature character Borat Sagdiyev is back, tanned, (ar)rested, and ready to out-absurd Trump in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And for many in this world-weary nation, there could be no greater gift to drop on Amazon Prime Video eleven days before American election day. 

Indeed, Borat 2 is the most fun this film journalist has had in eight months, a laugh-out-loud-funny sequel that's every bit the equal of—and arguably something more than—its 2006 predecessor Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Of course, Borat is a character not to all tastes, but those on Cohen's wavelength will savor each of these 96 minutes, with a joke rate that blows even Airplane! out of the water (I'd estimate that there's a joke every three seconds, with yet more laughs extractable by freeze-frame). The Borat house style transcends offensiveness by holding a mirror up to the very worst of human impulses, making us laugh at crimes against humanity not because the satirists don't care but precisely because they care so much.

That's an even more winning formula now for an American audience worn down by rage against their Offender-in-Chief (and a global audience that's been pointing and laughing at him, and sympathizing with us) over four excruciating years. Like Trump, Borat is nothing if not deliriously, aggressively tasteless, blithely ruining everything he touches. Unlike Trump, Borat may be capable of self-reflection and even change. Could the unthinkable happen? Could backwards Borat get woke? No spoilers here, other than to say that the notion is one of the sequel's two avenues of suspense. The other: which Trump cronies will find themselves in the crosshairs of a sequel that Cohen appears to have felt morally compelled to make.

Borat 2 continues the formula Cohen has honed, in Britain and then the U.S., since Borat's 1996 television debut. As in Da Ali G Show, Borat, and the Borat-less 2018 Showtime limited series Who Is America?, Cohen dons various disguises to interact with unsuspecting Americans and expose their small-minded views, have a little pranksterish fun, and/or turn the audiences own prejudices on their head by revealing the unexpected good-heartedness of workaday citizens let down by political news turned infotainment and a lackluster education system. Borat 2 principally skewers indoctrination, whether it be backwards men subjugating women to accept their devaluation in society or low-information-voter Republicans brainwashed by Murdoch-owned media to pay the Democrat-demonization forward to whomever will listen.

With his eight co-writers and over a dozen producers, Cohen has again designed and executed a series of technically improvised public stunts worked out in advance with German-railway-schedule precision, every contingency cleverly considered. The film incorporates into its narrative the problem of the Borat character's popularity (a problem that also forced Cohen to invent a new suite of characters for Who Is America?) by giving the character fictional international infamy that forces him to adopt a series of disguises. Winning newcomer Maria Bakalova plays Borat's new sidekick, a character whose identity you'll have to learn for yourself but one that gives this story its opportunity for wistfulness. Don't get too excited, though. This film’s idea of a tender moment is a man allowing a young woman out of her cage to sleep on a thin layer of hay.

The outrageous satire at times smacks of overkill until we remember the world we're living in on the eve of Amy Coney Barrett's coronation to the Supreme Court of the United States (this is a year, after all, when a featured speaker at the Republican convention went on record in support of "household voting": "In a Godly household the husband would get the final say"). This is a week, for fuck's sake, in which a court filing confirmed that 545 children separated at the border from their adult family members by the Trump administration cannot be reunited with their guardians because no one bothered to keep records. So don't try to tell me Borat is too over the top. Too juvenile? We could have that conversation. Too inappropriate? I'll listen. But not too over the top.

Cohen and director Jason Woliner push the boundaries of bad taste like no one since John Waters in his early years. Can a film like this—powered so much by its moment—stand the test of time? It's hard to say, but there's plenty of situation comedy here that doesn't rely on timeliness. Cohen and company saw the most important election in our lifetimes on the horizon and got to work, but what they couldn't see coming was a global pandemic. That's where improvisational genius helps behind the scenes as well: COVID-19 becomes just another comic opportunity for the story to gracefully pirouette upon and continue on its merry way all the way not to a "The End" but instead to a reminder that Amazon Primes you to vote like your soul depends on it.
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