Whatever you say about Sacha Baron Cohen, the writer/star of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," when he comes up with an idea, he commits.
Based on a character from Cohen’s popular "Da Ali G Show," which ran on HBO from 2003 to ’04, the movie is sort of a psychological version of "Jackass: The Movie." Most of the humor comes from seeing somebody make a total jerk out of himself, even though it’s a fictional character.
The movie starts when Borat Sagdiyev, a marginal journalist from Kazakhstan, goes to America to make a documentary. Armed with one camera, manager Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) and a chicken, Borat wanders the countryside looking for what makes us unique. Most of the movie is unscripted, featuring Borat interacting with people from all across the U.S., very few of them aware it’s a joke.
It has been said comedy is one of the most subjective of film genres. You could be watching the most artfully staged cream-pie fight in the history of cinema, but if you don’t like slapstick, you won’t laugh. Such was the case here. I admire Cohen’s ability to stay in character and director Larry Charles does a wonderful job stringing everything together so it makes an anarchic kind of sense, but, for me, a little Borat goes a long way.
Most of the comedy hedges on how uncomfortable Cohen, in the Borat guise, makes people feel. In some cases, especially when these people are pinheads, you are not-so-secretly happy to watch them squirm. But, after a while, the movie becomes a series of recycled gags.
There was one aspect I liked and some — critics and non-critics alike — are probably going to misconstrue. The movie viciously pokes fun at anti-Semitism, which is very much alive today. One of the funniest moments has to do with "The Running of the Jew," an ancient tradition in Borat’s village. It must be seen to be believed. In this respect, Cohen is in the company of Mel Brooks and other great Jewish comics who have been fearless in using humor to expose this behavior.
Of course, most people seeing "Borat" are not there for the social satire. They are there to laugh. If they like seeing a Cambridge-educated humorist playing the part of a naöve but earnest jackass, they’re in luck.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Three reels out of four
In area theaters tomorrow
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