|Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
Director: Larry Charles
It’s one thing to make a controversial film, but it’s another when that very same film is publicly denounced by an entire country. Mind you, it’s a third-world country we’re talking about here, but that hasn’t stopped the leaders of Kazakhstan from throwing a grade-A fuss over British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s purportedly close-minded portrayal of the small, Eastern European country. Unfortunately, even the Kazakhstani government won’t be able to stop “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” from becoming the surprise hit of the fall movie season. It’s the most sexist, racist, and all-out offensive film I’ve ever seen. It’s demeaning to females, homosexuals, Jews, and just about anyone else you can imagine; even farm animals. It’s a satirical hodgepodge of insanity and discomfort at their absolute worst. And it also happens to be one of the funniest movies of the year.
Cohen stars as Borat, a Khazkhstani TV journalist who’s been sent by his ministry to New York City to film a documentary on American culture. But when he discovers a late night rerun of “Baywatch” while channel surfing in his hotel room, Borat falls head-over-heels for Pamela Anderson. Intent on traveling to California to marry her, Borat and his portly producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), pack up their things and set off on a trip through the American heartland in a beat-up ice cream truck, making stops along the way to interview unsuspecting victims like humor coach Pat Haggerty, etiquette instructor Kathie Martin, veteran feminist Grace Welch, and two-time presidential candidate Alan Keyes.
Perhaps one of Borat’s funniest stops is in Dickson, Tennessee where he is invited to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of an extremely patriotic crowd of rodeo fans. Warned beforehand by rodeo veteran Bobby Rowe that he looks a little too much like a terrorist, Borat wins over the crowd by informing them that Kazakhstan supports their country’s “war of terror.” He then goes on to include that he hopes “George W. Bush may drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq.” The experience doesn’t conclude on a high note, however, as Borat dives into his performance of the Kazakhstan national anthem and is booed out of the arena.
What’s so amusing about “Borat” is how the film operates in a two-tiered system of comedy. While Cohen’s outrageous behavior is certainly cause for laughter, it’s usually the reactions of his victims that yield the biggest laughs. Like when a hotel messenger delivers a telegram informing Borat that his wife has just died. At first, the man is very professional – even offering sincere condolences – but when Borat gets excited over the news and yells out “high five,” the man quickly joins in on the celebration. These more lighthearted confrontations are actually more enjoyable to watch unfold than the controversial ones (like when a gun salesman suggests a gold-plated 9mm as the gun of choice for killing a Jew), but it’s the media’s interest in the film’s supposed Anti-Semitic commentary (even though Cohen himself is Jewish) that will inevitably garner all of the attention.
It’s too bad that a bunch of narrow-minded idiots are causing such a commotion over an obviously satirical ploy at pointing out our country’s own inherent bigotry. Then again, 20th Century Fox (which is distributing the movie) must be literally bathing in all of the free publicity. The movie certainly deserves it; especially Cohen, who has proven that he’s one of the best comedic talents of his generation. Anyone that is even marginally interested must go see this movie. As Borat would say, it’s “Niiiiiiice.”
It sure would have been nice to get a DVD jam-packed with special features, but it’s hard to expect much more material than what is already included from a film that was more or less improvised. Because of this, there are really no production featurettes to speak of. Instead, fans are treated to a solid 28-minutes of deleted scenes (including Borat at the supermarket, getting massage, working at a fast food joint, and starring in a Kazakh TV version of “Baywatch” translated to “SexyDrownWatch”), as well as a 16-minute montage of the film’s press blitz (“Global Propaganda Tour”), from appearances on the film circuit to interviews with Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno. An audio commentary with Cohen (or better yet, in character as Borat) would have been a nice touch, but it wasn’t at all necessary. All in all, this isn’t a bad single-disc effort, but it’s hard to believe that a double-disc special edition isn’t already in the works.