“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is the eternal name of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new picture, viewable starting Friday on Amazon Prime. It is, I think, a superhero movie.
Since the original “Borat,” Baron Cohen has made himself into a sort of comedy Robin Hood who metes out a little justice where there isn’t any to be had from the institutions that ought to serve us. I hated this instinct when I saw it 14 years ago in his first Borat movie; who did Baron Cohen think he was? Watching him dodge security checkpoints at the Conservative Political Action Conference and make fun of gun-wielding neo-Nazis at their own rally, I admire it tremendously now.
Borat’s most valuable skill in these dangerous moments is as a distraction: The security guards and police all swarm around the giant clown in the ridiculous outfit shouting in a stupid accent; the people escaping with the goods are the director, Jason Woliner, and his team of plainclothes camera and microphone operators, who quietly slip out and assemble the footage elsewhere while the authorities try in vain to inconvenience a wealthy movie star.
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Take what we already knew from news coverage of one signature stunt: On Feb. 27, just before noon, a tall man in an elaborate Donald Trump wig, makeup and fat suit ran at top speed from the men’s room in the Gaylord National Resort in Fort Washington, Maryland — just outside Washington, D.C. — and through the doors of the Potomac Ballroom, where Vice President Mike Pence was speaking to influential Republicans at CPAC. The man, carrying a young woman in a green dress and laddered stockings over one shoulder, proceeded to yell over Pence’s speech, offering him the girl. “Michael Pennis!” he shouted in a suspicious accent. “Michael Pennis! I brought girl for you! Don’t worry, I not get jealous! She like Ivanka!” He was immediately dragged out of the speech while Pence looked on, disgusted.
If we can’t see Pence face any consequences for his role in the Trump administration, we can at least laugh at his degradation.
The same man tried to crash the conference the following day, as well — Mediaite’s Zachary Petrizzo got a good video of him being frog-marched out the second time. “When asked by Mediaite why he continues to conduct the stunt,” wrote Petrizzo, “the impersonator responded with a thumbs-up and a smirk.”
This man, of course, was Borat — or rather, Baron Cohen, the movie’s co-writer and star. (He originated the character of the indelible Kazakh journalist on “Da Ali G Show,” on British television.)
Baron Cohen is a howlingly funny comedian, of course, but he’s also a kind of avenger, skewering cruel people who are insulated from every other kind of hurt, using every underhanded trick in the moviemaker’s book. (“Worth noting that there are no fewer than four security checkpoints here at CPAC, including TSA and Secret Service searches of all bags and jackets,” observed politics columnist Anthony L. Fisher of the CPAC prank.) All of that makes “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” both a barrel of laughs and a welcome catharsis: If we can’t see Pence face any legal consequences for his role in the Trump administration’s horrors, we can at least laugh at his elaborate degradation.
There is more connective tissue holding together this movie than in Borat’s previous moviefilm — for one thing, Borat now has his daughter, Tutar (a remarkable Maria Bakalova), in tow, and Tutar is just as entertaining as her dad. The movie opens with Borat serving hard time in Kazakhstan as punishment for his involvement in the first outing; through some nonsensical meanderings, he ends up in the U.S. with Tutar and a mission from Premier Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu, playing a real-life Kazakh strongman who laughed off the last flick): to give her as a present to Pence.
But the actual subtext — and thesis — of both Borat movies is that Americans are generally willing to put up with far too much to avoid rocking the boat, and that this is a dangerous quality.
The thesis of both Borat movies is that Americans are generally willing to put up with far too much to avoid rocking the boat, and that this is dangerous.
In an early scene, for instance, Borat asks a hardware store owner how much propane he will need to pipe into the back of his truck to kill a gypsy; when Borat clarifies that he may want to gas several gypsies to death, the merchant gamely recommends a larger propane tank. Later on, Borat asks a baker to write “Jews Will Not Replace Us” in icing on a chocolate cake; she doesn’t even bat an eye.
In one of the movie’s best segments, Borat and Tutar go to a “crisis pregnancy center” and accidentally tell the counselor — a pro-life pastor — that Borat’s daughter is pregnant and he is the father. The pastor refuses to listen to their explanation for why they are there seeking help, and, in a setting that looks far too much like a doctor’s office, instead lectures Tutar about the sanctity of life.
The movie’s subjects are object lessons: they’re being embarrassed (possibly at least a little unfairly, given Baron Cohen’s history) because we catch them doing something wrong. It’s easy to pick on the annoying bigots who live next door — which was what bothered me about the first movie — if you’re a movie star who lives in another country, but it’s a very different matter to dodge the Secret Service at CPAC or to go to a rally with hundreds of members of a violent far-right militant group, wearing a bulletproof vest under your overalls, and get caught in the act of leading a racist singalong.
And, of course, there’s the pièce de résistance, which has dominated the news: the Rudy Giuliani prank.
It’s hard to feel bad for any of them.
The Trump administration has ripped apart families, orphaning hundreds of children for no reason at all (Borat gets a high five from the hardware store owner over this) and botched the coronavirus response so badly that hundreds of thousands are dead. In response, legislators who are supposed to advocate for their constituents have not done much more than fundraise and, with their newfound legal and social impunity, Trump and cronies like Pence and Giuliani have grown ever more cruel. The laypeople who support them have grown more blatant, too, staging murderous riots with the help of police all over the country and then lying about their motivations when cornered after the fact.
“Three Percenters reject racist ideologies such as white nationalism,” said the leader of the Washington Three Percenters in June, after catching Borat at their rally. Here’s the thing: They don’t. We all watched them when they were given the chance to reject racism, and they didn’t take it. If our institutions won’t keep us safe from them, Borat will at least let us laugh at them.