I’ll just say this up front, I never watched the original Borat. I was twelve in 2007 and wasn’t really in the market for R-Rated dark comedies at the time. It wasn’t even really all that culturally relevant in the years since besides being a bizarre cultural artifact.
It hasn’t helped that Sacha Baron Cohen’s career since hasn’t really attracted me to want to revisit his work. The Dictator and The Brothers Grimsby both turned me off at their trailers and I never gave them a chance. His 2018 series Who Is America? only really serves to be a cruel series of partisan pranks for Cohen to mock his political opponents.
Combine that with the fact that he advocated for anti-free speech policies on live television and his persona is beyond obnoxious at this point. He’s a hypocritical authoritarian who wants to imprison others for “hate speech” while protecting his own hateful ironic jokes.
I only decided to dive into Borat 2 blind because it became the most controversial film of 2020.
The movie was basically sold as Cohen’s attempt to spoof Trump supporters (again) using his most famous character. Of course, the gimmick of the Borat movies has always been Sacha Baron Cohen’s quest to try and bring out the worst in his targets. The goal from the outset was to try and find ways to draw out extreme reactions from Trumpkins and fringe conservatives.
The degree to which it does this successfully is questionable. Although the salivating tongue bath the film has received from the press would suggest the movie is quite enjoyable porn for left of center film critics.
It’s hard to judge Borat 2 as a film by itself. Although the general consensus has been that it’s inferior to it’s predecessor, the sheer overtness of its political stance has turned off conservative audiences who rightly perceive the scorn it holds for them.
Either the movie is mocking people you hate or it’s mocking people who loosely agree with you. The movie even ends with a “Go Vote” title; implying that THESE PEOPLE will continue to rule over you if you don’t stop them.
I’m not even a Trump fan but I can definitely see why your average Joe Republican would feel punched down on by this film.
Even so, there’s reason to consider it lacking. As RedLetterMedia put it, whatever the movie accomplishes on a narrative level, it’s undermined by the fact that the movie isn’t really succeeding at drawing out the kind of natural extreme reactions the previous film succeeded in. It’s mostly chopped to heck on editing and doesn’t feel as organic as the first film did.
The movie really set out with a goal this time around and it’s weaker for it. For the most part, Borat 2 is just interested in sticking its lead character Borat in rooms with befuddled conservatives and southerners and watching them react to this bizarre foreigner who keeps making anti-Semitic comments.
For the most part, the movie doesn’t drudge up the kind of reactions Cohen clearly wants to get from his hidden camera victims. With the exception of the infamous Rudy Giuliani sting and the Qanon quarantine, there really isn’t anything as shocking here as the “Throw the Jew down the well” or the sexist frat boys in the previous movie.
Even that scene is somewhat undermined by the fact that Giuliani isn’t married and seems to think the woman coming onto him is of legal age.
All that’s left in the film is scornful mockery. Sacha Baron Cohen is trying so hard to make Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Women’s Republican groups look foolish but you wouldn’t find much to mock in these scenes unless you get sick joy watching normal people with opinions you hate stare in utter bewilderment at these horror shows.
When Cohen sneaks into CPAC as a KKK member, he’s met with nothing but looks of derision and confusion. When he barged into Pence’s speech dress as Donald Trump offering a teenage girl to hun, the crowd boos him and he’s dragged out by security. Most of these scenes don’t make Republicans look like monsters.
The closest it even comes to delivering on its premise is when he finds a big rural conservative audience in Washington state full of confederate hats and blue lives matter flags and sings a country song about how Obama should be imprisoned and injected with “Wuhan Flu”. The crowd starts laughing and cheering him on.
Admittedly, not a great look. Although it’s not unlikely that these scenes were hacked to pieces in the editing bay too for maximum effect. It’s not hard to find the one guy in a crowd of redneck conservatives that goes too far and to pretend that he represents the entire group.
What’s left is a film that has a few moments of gross out humor and little meaning outside its ability to splash the zeitgeist.
One of the films genuine highlights admittedly is that Cohen has decent chemistry with his fictional daughter. That story arc actually does have some good moments for Borat and her as the two of them slowly bond and start questioning the values they were taught in their home country. That said, it’s at the edges of a movie that’s otherwise struggling to stay above sea level.
Heck, this film isn’t even going to be an interesting time capsule a year from now. Assuming nothing happens before Biden takes the oath of office in January, there’s not even going to be an audience of Trump haters who desperately want to revisit this film a year from now. It’s just going to be a cultural knot of bizarre nut jobs and gross out jokes.
Nobody is going to revisit this film warmly. That leaves it as a film that’s already dated just three weeks after it’s release. From the guy who made The Dictator unironically, that’s a new record divebomb from relative success to irrelevance.