20th Century Fox presents
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
"I took a bus to California with some friends of Mr. Jesus."- Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen)
Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen
Other Stars: Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson, Luenell
Director: Larry Charles
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, including graphic nudity and language
Run Time: 01h:23m:43s
Release Date: 2007-03-06
DVD ReviewBack in 2004 I reviewed the first season of Sacha Baron Cohen's Da Ali G Show series, and in my review I mentioned how I found his Borat character to be not much more than a "broken-English approach that seems like a shallow rip-off of the Ali G character." Allegedly hailing from the country of Kazakhstan, Cohen's Borat was a another take on the clueless, accented foreigner shtick, and on the series the presentation came across more like Latka-ish filler than funny.
To me—at the time anyway—the second-tier Borat was just another variation of what Cohen was already trying to do (and what I thought was far better) with Ali's "wanksta" bit, which was to mercilessly screw with everyday people by mostly saying patently wrong, offensive things, with the sincerest honesty and/or dim-witted naïvèté. Funny sometimes, but I would have rather just have had more Ali G.
The fickle finger of taste has changed a little since then I guess, and it just shows I'm not always such a great predictor (I am still a Cub fan, after all), because with the release of this feature film, the phenom of the stranger-in-a-strange-land Borat character has certainly become Cohen's big meal ticket. Maybe it's the material or the presentation, or maybe it's just because Ali G has more or less disappeared and isn't diluting the overall experience for me. Who knows?
But color me a convert now, because this is easily one of the funniest films I have seen in a very long time. A very long time, indeed. From start to finish, it tramples around like the proverbial unethical bull in a china shop (or Kazakhstani in an antique store), offering crude and often insensitive humor that dares to either be laughed or gasped at. Borat refers to one-time presidential candidate Alan Keyes as "a genuine chocolate face", defecates in planters in front of Trump Towers, and takes on a trio of feminists with hilariously abrupt coarseness, all in the name of exploring America.
The setup has journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen)—complete with all of his sexist, incestuous, misogynistic, anti-Semetic leanings—and his rotund, cranky producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) sent to the "U.S. and A" to film a documentary, eventually traveling across the country in a dilapidated former ice cream truck from New York to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to interview assorted citizens and naturally wreaking all sorts of politically incorrect havoc. The delivery method patches together absurd comedy (the subtitled interactions between Borat and Azamat), staged mock bits that try to look authentic (a wacky encounter with Pamela Anderson) or the real bread-and-butter of the film, which is inserting the say-and-do-the-wrong-thing character alongside real Americans, and letting the unscripted comedic fallout rain down in awkwardly brilliant torrents.
Not that it really matters, but the narrative spreads out like a series of loosely connected vignettes, theoretically bound by Borat's newfound obsession with Pamela Anderson. And those vignettes can be simple comedy, such as catching the facial reaction of a politician after being told that the cheese he's eating has been made from Borat's wife's breast milk, or something much darker, such as hearing a disturbing homophobic rant from a rodeo organizer that seems to pour out naturally without much prompting from Cohen/Borat. It's these "real people" moments that connect the fictional bits, such as a graphic nude wrestling match between Borat and Azamat that spills out of their hotel room, down the elevator, across the lobby, eventually landing them in the middle of a mortgage brokers annual banquet. In fact, I'll bet you a dollar that this prolonged nude wrestling segment is likely the dominant image that will be etched in your brain after watching, and even if physical comedy is not your ideal, I'll bet you laugh. A lot.
There have been a lot of news stories about the lawsuits piling up for this film, with many of the participants (all of whom signed releases) claiming they were led to believe they were taking part in a real documentary by a actual Kazakhstani filmmaker, and instead find themselves often looking foolish and crass, like the stereotypical ugly American that the rest of the world seems to see. Sure, there's probably a little clever editing done to help sell points, but the truth hurts, don't it? Some of the people do fare better than others, and while the humor coach who tries to teach Borat how to tell a joke may just get politely exasperated, there's a motor home full of seemingly inebriated male college students that become a creepy crash course in why I shouldn't want to EVER send my daughter off to college. A formal dinner party experience goes both ways, beginning with remarkable patience on the part of the hosts (especially when Borat returns to the table with a plastic bag of human feces) that eventually becomes terribly uncomfortable, though never anything less than outrageously funny.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is more than just a mouthful of a movie title, it's a strange comic hybrid, a casual mix of mockumentary, documentary, and straightout comedy, with the fuzzy lines of separation between the genres sometimes often difficult to distinguish. It all merges together, and the approach is for Cohen/Borat to do the equivalent of dragging a razor across the ugly underbelly of America—revealing all the racist, sexist, homophobic elements—and allowing it to all fall out into a big steaming pile of repugnant social indecency and intolerance. But it's repugnant social indecency and intolerance that is somehow extremely funny. And I guess that's a little sad in some respects, but it's one of those bitter truths we just have to swallow. All Cohen is doing is stirring it up and bringing it to the surface.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Borat is presented here in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. There's a wide range of settings in the film, so the image quality varies a bit, depending on the locale. Colors for the most part look very pleasing and natural, appearing bright and well-defined, though light levels in some scenes are a little less than perfect.
A separate 1.33:1 full-frame version is also available from 20th Century Fox, so look twice when you purchase.
Image Transfer Grade: B
|DS 2.0||Spanish, French, Russian||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: The principle audio track is an English-language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option. Nothing very dramatic about the mix in general, though dialogue is always clear, and that's really what counts here. And given that so much of the film is "on the street" material, the crispness and clarity of the voices is fairly strong. The presentation has little in the way of directional movement, and the rears don't get much use either. The jumpy Kazakhstani music has some modest punch to it, though not much in the way of any real bottom end.
Dolby Digital 2.0 surround dubs in Spanish, French and Russian are also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, Super Troopers, Grandma's Boy: Unrated
8 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: Once you remove the slipcase cover, the inner packaging tries to replicate a shoddy bootleg product. The case cover is in Kazakhstani, and the text is blurry and the images have a lot of intentional color bleed, like it was just printed off the back of a truck somewhere. The best part is the disc itself, which looks a DVD-R, with the movie title written in what looks like marker.
As far as extras, there are eight deleted scenes—referred to here as "censored footages"—with most running in the two- to three-minute range, with the shortest (01m:17s) being a terrific Baywatch spoof and the longest (06m:04s) a hodge podge of material, such as Borat trying his hand at working at a hamburger joint or going to a plastic surgeon. Short of the blubbery gross-out funny of the Baywatch bit, most of the cut scenes aren't especially remarkable (and the one at the animal shelter is almost downright mean), but do continue the awkward humor of the feature.
The Global Propaganda Tour (16m:39s) follows the promotional blitz, and allows Cohen to mine some more humor out of that infamous green string swimsuit. It's another mixed bag of footage, gathered up from Cannes, an appearance with Conan and Leno, SNL, etc. The minute-long Musics Infomercial is a promo spot for a fictitious soundtrack album, while Coming Kazakhstan in 2028 (02m:12s) is nothing more than a cleverly-titled set of trailers for Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, Super Troopers and Grandma's Boy: Unrated
The disc is cut into 24 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or Spanish.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsIt's not fair to just call this a comedy. This is a big cracked mirror showing America's ugly side, emceed by a bluntly crude host from a faraway land who can always be counted on to say or do the wrong thing.
Even the packaging is funny.
Rich Rosell 2007-03-07