Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Borat is back and as "bad" as ever


   Of course, it’s too much, too gross, too over-the-top, too indulgent in whatever excesses might cross your mind.
    The latest Borat movie — prosaically entitled Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — brings Sacha Baron Cohen to the pop-cultural forefront at a time when many are nervous about the upcoming election, trying not to be overly confident that four years of Trump will have been sufficient to cure the country of its roguish impulses.
     It is in this climate that Borat, the preposterous journalist from Kazakhstan, returns after his initial introduction to the big screen in 2006. 
    The plot is as unashamedly ridiculous as you might expect. Rescued from disgrace by his government, Borat is sent to America with a mission. He must deliver a token of appreciation to vice president Pence, a gift in the form of Jimmy the Monkey. 
     No one will be surprised to discover that this idiotic endeavor doesn't  proceed smoothly. Borat’s daughter Tutar (Maria Bakolva ) stows away in the crate containing Jimmy and the unfortunate creature is consumed — either in an act of self-cannibalism or by a famished Tutar before the beast even can be unpacked.
    Ever ingenious, Borat decides that Tutar herself would make a fitting substitute for Jimmy. He’ll give her to Pence as a token of his government’s wish to be acknowledged by "McDonald" Trump, who thus far has not sufficiently recognized the glories of Kazakhstan, not the real nation, but a fictional one in which backwardness has become official policy.
     Available on Amazon Prime, screening links for Borat arrived with a request that critics do not disclose anything that might ruin the movie's eruptive spray of jokes.
    I’ll abide by the semi-injunction and proceed with the most general statement I can make: When I laughed at various bits in Borat, many involving Ali G-style encounters with real people, I laughed hard. But I also found some of Borat's interactions with the unsuspecting went too far or were too pitiless. 
    Moreover, some of the gags made me wonder whether some of the people brought into Borat’s sphere were in on the joke. 
    And in a moment when reality and fiction too often have become indistinguishable, I found myself fretting about the additional blurring of lines that already are far too wavy.
   OK, a few hints about what you’ll encounter in a second helping that can't help but feel less brazenly original than the first.
  En route to their encounter with Pence — long before a fly landed on the veep's streamlined head — Borat and Tutar meet with a pastor for a joke made at the expense of a strand of  opposition to abortion. The joke is so simple and absurdly conceived that it becomes hilarious in its unabashed silliness.
    As he travels around the US, Baron Cohen tends to focus on Trump enthusiasts, at one point encountering a couple of America-first believers who subscribe to various conspiracy theories, for example. 
    Baron Cohen’s intrusion into a southern debutante ball leads to a joke of such exaggerated grossness that it may make both fans and detractors cringe.  
    And of course, there’s Borat’s state-sanctioned misogyny and undisguised anti-Semitism — which leads to a bit with a clueless bakery clerk — that defies belief. 
    Baron Cohen is Jewish, so it’s safe to assume that he’s interested in exposing anti-Semitism at its most idiotic. It's also clear that Baron Cohen subscribes to a principle I once heard articulated by political commentator Michael Kinsley in an entirely different context. If you don’t go too far,  you may not go far enough.
     Put another way — and borrowing from another side of the political coin — extremism in the defense of comedy is no vice, particularly at a time when a parade of bizarre realities has crippled the ability of satire and parody to strike major blows.
     Baron Cohen doesn’t satirize. Rather, he meets the dragons of ignorance head-on, as if to say, "I’ll fight the fires of stupidity with more stupidity, so much so that you can’t help but see what ignorance looks like when it’s stripped to its naked core."
    Maybe I’m over-thinking the whole thing. All I know is that I said at the outset: Borat made me laugh very hard, made me think that Baron Cohen sometimes veered out of bounds, and made me wonder which, if any, of his real-life subjects were playing along with him.
   Of course, Borat sometimes offends, but Baron Cohen’s bet is that there’s nothing that he can do that’s more offensive than some of the realities he's exposing as Borat once again springs to life from the glorious nation of Kazakhstan.

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