Sacha Baron Cohen's on-screen personas have always been about lifting the veil and teasing out the ugly face of modern day society. Acting the fool makes everyone else vulnerable. People lower their guard, ascend to a position of power, or feel validated if they too are fools. They go along with it and are hoisted by their own petards. This is the most incisive and satirical aspect of Cohen's comedy. In fact, the lightning-fast wit and creativity that is improvised during these interviews/scenarios makes his scripted, gross-out humour seem pretty uninspired in comparison. In Borat (2006) terms, it's the difference between his 'Western' etiquette lessons and the iconic mankini.
Borat Subqequent Moviefilm has the same tug-of-war between narrative and improvisation. However, this new film doesn't seem to find a satisfying balance. Lacking the simplicity of the original, the plot in Borat 2 ultimately suffers for its ambition, feeling contrived to get us from one real-life interaction to the next. Maria Bakalova puts in a decent performance as Borat's daughter-come-diplomatic-gift, but her story is really just the connective tissue between sketches. Our moustachioed Kazak is even in disguise for most of the picture, so you have to ask how much 'Borat' we're actually getting.
The real issue with the film, is that the interview scoops themselves are not nearly as distressing or revelatory as they should be. We know that people are shallow and dogmatic - just look who's in power!
The US has changed a lot in the last 14 years. Each day brings unbelievable new revelations about idiotic, crass, and inhumane things that public figures have said and done. Could it be that it's just not that shocking to hear this shit out loud anymore? We have accepted extremism and bigotry at our table and that is where it now resides.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm does attempt to mimic the original's creativity. Most refreshing are the two incredibly wholesome scenarios that actually restore some of your faith in humanity (temporarily!). Much of the publicity around this film's release involved a genuinely incriminating scene with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and this is one of the few scathing 'gotcha' moments. If, like me, the shocking outbursts, stranger-than-fiction personalities and social commentary are the main event for you, you may be better off going back to Cohen's classic Da Ali G Show or 2018's Who Is America? sketches. The plot elements here are just a distraction.
Verdict: 32/56 menstruating debutants