Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
Directed by Larry Charles
With most people only having been exposed to the comedic skills of Sacha Baron Cohen in this summer’s hit film, “Talladega Nights,” where he played the bizarre French rival driver to Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby, it’s safe to say that the 34-year-old British comedian is a bit of an unknown commodity. But with the release of “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” that status will undoubtedly and quickly change.
There is no way to watch the film impassively and with a straight face. It’s simply and unequivocally the most outrageous comedy to hit theaters in years. Your enjoyment of the movie will likely be directly tied to the level at which you can withstand being offended, as Baron Cohen paints a likable foreign character who also happens to be sexist, anti-Semitic and horny, not necessarily in that order.
As Borat Sagdiyev, a TV reporter from Kazakhstan, Baron Cohen is fearless in his portrayal as a man looking to learn culture from Americans that he can take back to his ignorant and impoverished people back home. Shot in a faux-documentary style and directed by Larry Charles (”Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld”), the cast, such as it is, only really consists of Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian as Borat’s cranky producer, Azamat, and Pamela Anderson, portraying herself. The remainder of the people in the movie are unknowingly becoming a part of a Hollywood film, while likely believing they are part of a Kazakh documentary. It’s clearly a ruse that goes well beyond hidden camera TV shows such as “Candid Camera” and “Punk’d.”
In some of the scenes, Borat’s ignorance of American customs allows for some seat-squirming situations, such as his behavior at a formal dinner party or singing his country’s national anthem at a rodeo in Virginia. In others, he’s simply able to operate as an observer while the ignorant and inappropriate comments come from others. Case in point: one man suggests Borat shave off his mustache so that he doesn’t get mistaken for a terrorist. That kind of an approach is certainly a bold one, as it exposes some of the prejudices and cultural differences in America. It’s not quite what you’d expect from most comedies, to be sure.
That said, a caveat must be included here, as this is definitely not a movie for children. For one, most of the humor will go over their heads. But more importantly, some of the content is so outrageous (some may say offensive) that it’s best to not expose younger audiences to the movie. One sequence involving a hotel room fight is admittedly funny, but its shock value may be so strong that it will turn off some (a couple of audience members walked out during the scene at a screening I attended).
There’s little doubt of Baron Cohen’s comic prowess and the fearlessness he has in attacking a role. But it’s also hard to deny that there could be a bit of a polarizing affect of the film on audiences. Still, you will laugh (and possibly quite often) during “Borat.” Whether you feel OK for doing so after the fact may be another story.
(Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including
graphic nudity, and language.)