Whether you call it “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”, “Borat 2”, or go by its official title “Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan” (and that’ll be the only time I’ll type it in its entirety), Sacha Baron Cohen finally got around to doing a follow-up to his 2006 box office smash. The first Borat movie was better at creating hilarious YouTube clips than actually gelling as a feature length movie. But people loved it and I’m sure many will fall for its sequel.
Yet there is something about “Borat 2” that has felt a little icky from the start. Purchased by Amazon mere weeks ago, rushed to their streaming platform ahead of the 2020 election, now getting loads of free publicity via major news outlets. It makes sense considering how politically motivated this film is compared to its predecessor (it even ends with the tag “Now Vote, or You Will Be Execute“). The first film offered a more rounded cultural, political, and social critique by holding up a mirror to American society. Cohen’s agenda-driven latest feels about 80% politics which doesn’t leave a lot of time for much else.
Obviously there is nothing wrong with having an agenda. Throughout cinema history there have been great movies built on agendas, many of them political. But “Borat 2” is what happens when your agenda becomes too transparent and it screams so loudly that it drowns out anything else your movie may want to say. Clearly in a country this bitterly divided Cohen’s film is sure to be candy for some.￼ That doesn’t make it any less frustrating, especially when you see glimmers of the first film’s strengths.
The movie opens with Cohen’s Borat Sagdiyev in a Kazakhstan gulag serving a life sentence￼ for humiliating his homeland with his first film. The country’s new Premier summons Borat and offers him a chance at redemption. Since he knows America, Borat is tasked with delivering a gift to Vice President Mike Pence in an effort to redeem Kazakhstan’s tarnished image. That gift – Johnny the Monkey, Minister of Culture and the country’s top pornstar (don’t ask). So Borat sets out on a cargo ship and 22 days later arrives in Galveston, Texas.
Once back in the States Borat quickly learns he has become a celebrity. Wishing to keep a low profile, he buys several costumes at a local Halloween ￼thrift shop and then sets out to do his patriotic duty. In a twist too stupid to waste time on, Johnny the Monkey doesn’t survive the trip from Kazakhstan. Instead Borat discovers his 15-year-old daughter Tutar (played by 24-year-old Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova) stowed away in the monkey’s crate. Borat scrabbles and comes up with a new plan. He’ll give his daughter as a gift to America’s Vice Premier. This thrills Tutar who has long dreamed of belonging to a powerful man much like her idol Queen Melania. Yep.
This sets in motion a number of ‘encounters’ with unsuspecting victims as Borat prepares his daughter for her new “owner”. They include trips to a dress shop, a hair salon, and getting tips from an Instagramming “sugar baby”. Actually Cohen and Bakalova’s best moments are when it’s just them and the half-baked mockumentary gives way to the daddy/daughter story. But these movies are all about fooling unaware people and capturing it on camera. This time these supposedly unscripted scenes (and some are quite dubious) don’t land nearly as well as they did in the first film and some fall completely flat.
Take one of the movie’s biggest scenes where Cohen, dressed in a fat suit and a Trump mask, throws Bakalova over his shoulder (or is it a doll) and barges into an arena interrupting Mike Pence’s CPAC speech. It could have been memorable, but it’s too poorly shot and ends with an uneventful thud. Then you get a scene like the debutante ball which starts ￼out funny but ends with a disgusting gross-out menstruation￼ gag. It’s not the only low-brow shock jock ‘humor’ we’re forced to endure. Whether it’s Cohen’s lazy fixation on genital jokes or him running around in his underwear. He’s constantly repackaging and rehashing the same crass material.
And again, it’s frustrating because there are laughs that can be mined out of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”. There’s also a pieced-together semi-inspiring story of Tutar’s self-liberation that begs for more attention. You also have to admire Cohen’s ability to lure people into exposing their own bigotries through some of the most ridiculous conversations and interactions, his boldness in infiltrating a den of alt-right conspiracy theorists, and his crafty commentary on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course most people are talking about the film’s finale featuring a prominent politician in compromising position, a scene made more salacious by what may be some rather strategic editing. Unfortunately there’s isn’t much else worth talking about. When in comes down to it “Borat 2” just can’t get out of its own way. Cohen’s work at exposing racism and misogyny is too often undercut by his insistence on overusing juvenile crudity. And this time around everything feels far more manufactured than with the first film. Ultimately you can’t help but wonder how many of the people on screen are actually in on the joke. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is now streaming on Amazon Prime”.
VERDICT – 2 STARS