It’s been 14 years since Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) embarked on his American road trip to gain cultural learnings. He’s spent the interim in a gulag as punishment for his failure. But now he has a shot at redemption. The Kazakhstan government has asked him to deliver a gift to the US presidential hierarchy; a bride. With teenage daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova) in tow, they embark on a journey to make her the best wife she can be.
Borat is an enigma as far as slapstick comedy movies go. Released 14 years ago, the film’s satirical look at life in America during George W. Bush’s presidency has dated in many ways. Technology has moved on hugely, and some of Cohen’s skits would be too risqué for today’s audience. But the film has a pop-culture timelessness that means it’s still funny. The more worrying connection between the Borat of 2006 and Amazon Prime’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Borat 2) is that our laughter at US culture is still tinged with disbelief at the divisiveness of a seemingly democratic and ‘free’ country.
Part of the first film’s appeal was the look under the hood we got at the racist and misogynistic opinions that existed on the fringe of US society. But the sequel takes us to an America in which frat bros and rednecks no longer feel like the political fringe. In Trump’s America, these dangerous oddballs are now in the ascendancy. This makes Borat 2 feel far more controversial, especially in a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic and a US presidential election. It also neutralises the same-samey-ness of some of his skits and gives the sequel a vastly different feel from the original.
One of the main issues with Borat 2 is that it’s not as funny as the first. There are some hilarious one liners, but in general the comedy seems more forced than the first film. The plot is also more convoluted and haphazard, derailing the road trip formula that made the first film so expansive. What this movie does have in spades though – surprisingly – is moments of real human connection. The lead characters may be fraudulent pranksters that prey on the polite, but the kindness that real people show Borat and Tutar on their travels is far from fake. There is still plenty of ugly behaviour; but Cohen clearly believes there is good and bad in equal measure.
One of Cohen’s master strokes in Borat 2 is shifting the focus from his crazy journalist character. This sequel plays as more of a buddy comedy, with Cohen’s Borat joined by his daughter Tutar (played by the relatively unknown Maria Bakalova). Bakalova more than holds her own and even steals the spotlight from Cohen. Her whip-crack delivery plays off well in skits, and her total committal to even the most outlandish jokes marks a highly impressive first appearance in a major Hollywood film.
Borat 2 packs all of the usual socio-political references you’d expect from a Cohen film and more. Some of the film’s more outrageous set pieces, including Borat infiltrating a Republican rally dressed as Donald Trump and a volatile hotel room scene involving US attorney, Rudy Giuliani, are genuinely shocking, even in a year of real-life shocking news. In that regard, Cohen delivers a much weightier punch than his original; this is a film that will get you talking afterwards.
Ultimately, despite the film’s volatile humour, Borat 2 is optimistic. It feels like a significant outing of America’s violent and paranoid underbelly that has been increasingly exposed recently. We’re still laughing, but the laughter rings a bit hollow now. This could Cohen’s lasting comedic legacy.
It was the sequel we didn’t need – but you’ll love. Its timely release means Borat’s subsequent moviefilm is full of on-the-nose political jokes and pop-culture references. 7/10.