'Borat' a fearless, hilarious high-wire act by star of 'Da Ali G Show'

Every now and then, a movie comes along that changes the rules. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" is one of those movies.

We might have seen it coming. Reality-based humor continually one-ups its predecessors with extreme approaches. The simple pranks of TV's long-running "Candid Camera" have finally morphed into the elaborate put-ons of "Punk'd," while the mind-free toilet humor of "Jackass Number Two" rakes in $70 million-plus at the box office.

But to limit "Borat" to this category alone-given its considerable shock factor- would be to miss the point.

Simply put, this movie is among the most subversive and utterly fearless satires of cultural values since "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," whose lengthy title it mimics.

British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (who originated the character on HBO's "Da Ali G Show") plays Borat Sagdiyev, a sweetly enthusiastic journalist from Kazakhstan who shares his country's deeply rooted prejudices, like sexism and unreasonable fear of Jews.

Movie

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

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Sacha Baron Cohen is Borat, an enthusiastic journalist from Kazakhstan who travels across America to make a documentary. The film continuously blurs the line between its fictional narrative-which features actors-and documentary-style sneak attacks on oblivious real people. A biting satire on prejudice and bigotry, it is the most fearless and funny comedy in years.

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Along with his largely inept producer Azamat (Ken Davitian), Borat sets off across America to make a documentary. It's here that some take exception with the film, particularly its reflexivity as it continuously blurs the line between its fictional narrative- which features a script, actors, etc.-and documentary-style sneak attacks on oblivious real people.

It helps that most Americans aren't familiar with Kazakhstan , but whether or not the actual former Soviet republic is bigoted or backwards does not matter. (Except to the unamused Kazakh government, which recently took a 4-page ad out in the New York Times stating otherwise.) This is not a documentary about Kazakhstan. It is a satire of cultural ignorance that spares none. Borat approaches his interviewees with a big smile and hilariously mangled English that reveals the irony-when he proudly tells an American rodeo crowd that Kazaks support the U.S.'s "war of terror!"

Borat's naÃive sweetness is precisely what allows people to let their guard down. It is thrilling because we are in on the joke. It's embarrassing because most of us are unfortunately familiar these traits in everyday people. There are two things that make the laughs in the movie so brutal. First, because Borat is a bigot he makes it seem "okay," and the victims are unknowingly tricked into revealing their inner prejudices.

Second, there is no moment of levity at the end of the prank like the big release that a "Punk'd" victim gets where he realizes it was all a hoax. Borat's subjects never get the satisfaction of knowing it was a put-on (on camera, anyway).

Cohen's commitment to the character is scary, as he is always pushing to find people's limits. This guerrilla-style filmmaking means that the whole crew must remain in character. However ridiculous it seems, it sets a new standard for acting when Cohen 's improvisation leads him into dangerous situations. In "Borat," acting means maneuvering in character to get what you want out of people who aren't completely aware of the stakes. The combination of unexpected outcomes and truly uncomfortable situations make "Borat" an equally funny and cringe-worthy movie.

The Anti-Defamation League is worried that Borat's unhealthy anti-Semitism may be misunderstood by less "sophisticated" audiences. Making Borat such a likable bigot certainly raises questions, but because his fear of Jews is taken to a ridiculous level (he cries like a baby and cowers at the sight of a harmless old Jewish couple hosting him at a Bed & Breakfast), it illustrates just how much this kind of prejudice is rooted in the absurd.

The same goes for Borat's negativity towards homosexuality. It is a concept he doesn't completely understand, as evinced by the funniest scene in the film (which had me covering my eyes and laughing uncontrollably for at least five straight minutes, probably more!)

Yes, the hype on this one is big. As such, it will be a grand social experiment on opening weekend in the theaters. I am going again just to see what the audience laughs at and what they don't.

Will it be too uncomfortable?

Will they get it?

Will they ever side with Borat's victims?

Will people walk out?

The fact that this mercilessly funny film is based in reality makes a bigger statement about who we are as a country. How we react seeing it reflected back at us will be another experience entirely.

Comments

Shardwurm 13 years, 9 months ago

It was a scream. No question. I'm 44 and I found it hilarious. Not only that...a couple in their 60s in front of us almost feinted from laughing.

henrydorn 13 years, 9 months ago

i found it funny, but i wouldnt see it again. sometimes it was boring and disgusting. see it once if that.

SpeedRacer 13 years, 9 months ago

I have no intention of seeing this movie. I didn't find anything in the previews funny and don't really like this kind of humor.

Marcus DeMond 13 years, 9 months ago

This movie was hilarious. By far the most I have ever laughed during a movie. SpeedRacer is missing out.

consvdem 13 years, 9 months ago

Oh boy, it was shocking, funny, and just gross at different times. Shocking: Not sure whether I found Borat's behavior more shocking or the words and thoughts of some of the people he interviewed. (I hope he had to look hard for some of those people.) Funny: well, you'll have to decide for yourself, but I liked bits like running-away-guy in NY (why is he running?) and the TV station scene (contagious laughter from absurdity). Gross: I'm not homophobic, but I really don't want to see a couple of naked, hairy guys fighting and running around. (Although, some back-corner of my mind was mildly impressed with the length of Borat's black box.)

Maybe I'm just naive, but I haven't found a movie this disturbing since A Clockwork Orange. (Viddie well, old man, viddie well.) Not.

Eric Melin 13 years, 9 months ago

One of the scenes that everyone finds disgusting, over the top, etc. is the nude wrestling scene. I've had people express that it is just shock humor. I agree that it is there for shock value to a certain extent, but one of Borat's essential character traits is that he does not understand homosexuality, and nothing illustrates this further or more explicitly(!) than this scene. This trait is at the root of the movie's argument that all bigotry is rooted in ignorance. Borat hates homosexuals (because culture tells him to), but doesn't know that he exhibits homosexual behavior all the time. Shocking, yes, but also brilliantly taking that idea to a striking visual level! And, for me at least, hilarious.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 13 years, 9 months ago

Anyone paying $8 to see this movie is an idiot. I know because I paid $8 to see this movie. The "review" by Eric Melin is as useful as an upchuck Rorschach test...a test you paid $8 to Donald Rumsfeld for the pleasure of taking...up your stream...

Puke on a piece of paper. Fold. Unfold. Open. What do you see? What was inside of you, eh? Stipooed! I mean "Stupid!"

Let's say that Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius. Let's say he takes a cr@p on George Bush's face. Is that cr@p the work of a genius? If you answered yes, then pay "the man".

This Eric Melin review is retarded. That's a period at the end of that last sentence.

This comment defines the rorschachian absurdity of Eric's "level" best praise for this cheap flick of snot. "Shocking, yes, but also brilliantly taking that idea to a striking visual level! And, for me at least, hilarious." ??? You live in your head!~)

Don't get me wrong. Most people will get a laugh at p(h)arts of this ripper, but anyone placing such ribald tripe in the same league, sport, phalanx or column with Dr. Strangelove deserves, or depicts, a rubber fist of hilarity.

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