Trump's America gets caught with its pants down in 'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm'
We'll zip up the matter of Rudy Giuliani's pants in a minute. First, though, let's pretend the new "Borat" movie has people talking about anything else.
It goes by the droll, broken-English title of "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm." Sacha Baron Cohen's most useful satiric creation — the exuberantly bigoted idiot journalist from Kazakhstan first introduced on Cohen's "Da Ali G Show," then given his own, wonderful, hit-and-run 2006 feature — captures intermittent flashes of lightning in his return to an America even more alarming than the gun-toting Dogpatch of the second Bush term, as depicted in that breakout smash.
Fourteen years have passed. It's easy to forget just how Bush's reelection played around the world as a geopolitical low point, below which America couldn't possibly sink. (Sample headline, from London's Daily Mirror: "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?"). The question for Cohen and the "Borat" sequel director Jason Woliner: Might the last four years, and in particular last nine months of "McDonald Trump," as he's called here, lead to an even richer vein of comedy gold?
The thrill of the first "Borat" turns out to be tough to replicate in post-humor 2020 America. Thrown into a Kazakh gulag after bringing shame to his homeland with his documentary exploits, Borat is given a chance to redeem himself. The nation's scowling premier wants to join the elite global "strongman club," and if Borat can deliver a gift to Vice President Mike Pence — it's a monkey, the Kazakh minster of culture — then all is forgiven.
Off he goes, with his 15-year-old stowaway daughter, Tutar, played with Tracey Ullman-esque zest by 24-year-old Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova. "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" travels the mockumentary road-movie route, albeit with a massive army of phallocentric, menstrual and incestuous running gags. A messy disruption of a Macon, Georgia, debutante ball offers one kind of effrontery; the plot development wherein Borat attempts to "gift" his daughter to Pence and then to Trump attorney Giuliani is another.
What's different this time? The sequel is both ruder and more sentimental, but there are payoffs in handling the father/daughter relationship semi-sincerely. Filmed in the earlier stages of the pandemic, the America we see in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" amounts to a largely maskless, QAnon-believing, science-denying idiocracy. As Borat learns to be a better father, which for better or worse provides the scatttershot sequel with a through-line, Tutar transforms from Melania Trump-loving princess-in-training ("I will never get to live in a golden cage like Melania!" she cries at one point) to enlightened, independent thinker.
Now to the pants, and I suppose this part needs a spoiler alert. In a key late scene, Tutar poses as a TV journalist. She's sitting down with Giuliani for a hotel room interview. She flatters him. She touches his knee a lot. He calls her "my dear" several times.
Cut to the adjoining bedroom. Giuliani, still wearing a microphone and a wire for the TV interview, lies down on the bed (likely at the actress's urging, though we don't see that part) and takes out the microphone, retucks his shirt in, still lying down — that part is weird, for sure — and then? I think, I think Cohen and his editors work a little hard to make it seem like he's about to go for it. There's at least one extremely dodgy edit where a shift in hidden camera perspective, dealing with a fleeting repeated moment involving Giuliani, shirt-tucking and hand disappearance, makes it look like Giuliani really is up to the something. Maybe the hand-on-her-lower-back stuff, a little earlier, is damning enough. Damning enough, that is, for about 10 minutes of this particular news cycle.
I laughed at a good deal of the movie, but a good deal more of it left me with (Cohen's intention, probably) the taste of ashes in the mouth. Hearing Pence behind a podium early this year, about to be punk'd by Cohen at the Conservative Political Action Conference, proudly noting America's "15 cases of coronavirus"; listening to Giuliani relay his statement that China "manufactured the virus" and "deliberately spread it all around the world," these are beyond satire. It's not easy right now to laugh at these insult comedians. They make it too hard, or maybe too easy, for a deadpan satirist trying to recapture the magic.
'BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM'
MPAA rating: R (for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and language)
Running time: 1:36
Premiering: Friday on Amazon Prime.