New movie is funny and pointed but not for the faint of heart

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is funny and the political satire is delicious but the gross out quotient is pretty high, so viewers should know what to expect before they go see it.

British Jewish comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, known for his politically edgy comic characters and biting social satire on the Da Ali G Show brings his Kazakh journalist character Borat to the big screen. Borat is undeniably funny and its political and social satire is as spot-on as it is politically incorrect. However, all the glowing reviews might mislead some moviegoers, because this comedy is not for everyone. As funny as the political satire is, this comedic gold is tarnished by very offensive humor.

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Sasha Baron Cohen’s humor is as much about body functions as about social commentary. This means that fans of potty humor will be as much amused as fans for well-crafted satire, but it means that viewers should be prepared for what they will see. Cohen is, of course, merely extending the mainstream trend of scatological and rude humor, created by comedians Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and others.

Cohen does take it to the next level and it is funny. The social satire and pointed political ribbings, mostly directed by this Brit at Americans and somewhat at foreign anti-Semitism, are very funny and very insightful and, at times, brilliant.

The basic premise of the film is that journalist Borat (Sasha Baron Cohen), a post-Soviet stereotype in a cheap gray suit, embarks on a trip to the U.S. for his Kazakhstan TV station. First we get a little introduction to his home country of Kazakhstan, a land of similar post-Soviet stereotypes about poverty, bad taste, backwardness and debauchery in the name of profit.

Most of the foreign stereotyping are aimed at American prejudices rather than Kazakhstan. However, the fact that Cohen uses the name of a real country, not an invented one, hints that he really has some issues with Kazakhstan. His point is revealed in Borat’s description of his town’s annual festival of the “running of the Jew,” where two people wearing papier-m âch é heads, anti-Semitic caricatures, are chased down streets. The sequence is both hilarious and appalling.

Hilarious and appalling is much of what you get from Borat. Once in New York, the comedian appears to use a pranking technique, in which he poses as the friendly but clueless Borat, gaining a bit of trust before, step-by-step, pushing them with escalating levels of outrageousness until they either toss him out in outrage or break out laughing. Whether these people are in on the joke, actors playing roles, or unsuspecting bystanders is not entirely clear.

Borat decides to expand his trip to New York after he sees an episode of Baywatch and sets his heart on kidnapping and marrying Pamela Anderson. So he and his producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) set out on a cross country trip. In a used ice cream truck. With a bear for protection.

The most extreme example of the good news, bad news dichotomy of Sasha Baron Cohen’s humor is found in a long sequence on the middle of the film, in which Borat and his short, out-of-shape, overweight producer get in a fight in their shared hotel room, and engage in nude wrestling with plenty of close-ups of jiggling flab. Just when you think this will never end, the nude men move on to chasing each other through the posh hotel lobby and eventually disrupt a formal business conference in the hotel. The end of the bit is funny but it is not a pretty sight along the way.

Bigotry, jingoism and prejudices of all types are running themes. An example of the film’s sometimes biting political humor is Borat’s visit to a rodeo. The red-state crowd cheers him when he enters the rodeo ring dressed in star-spangled cowboy attire and praises George Bush and the war in Iraq. Their enthusiasm fades as he graphically describes how he would like to kill Iraqis, and he is booed off by the time he sings his parody version of the Kazakh national anthem to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. In another scene, Borat is the guest at a Southern dinner designed to teach table manners. His bringing a bag of excrement to the table is met with puzzled looks and suppressed laughter but when he brings in an African-American prostitute, and introduces her that way, to join the dinner, they toss him out in outrage, the prefect example of what will and will not be tolerated. Borat’s stay in a Midwestern bed and breakfast run by a sweet middle-aged couple is cut short when he discovers they are Jewish, and he and his producer feel they must sneak out lest the considerate couple kill them in their sleep.

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