When the first “Borat” film came out in 2006, it was blindingly original, an
expertly executed prank Sacha Baron Cohen played on America, forcing the country
to look at itself in an often unflattering way. Now Baron Cohen is back with
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” a sequel that brings Baron Cohen’s character back
to the United States for more cringe-worthy antics. If you didn’t see the first
film, Borat is a reporter from Kazakhstan who comes to America to report. Baron
Cohen, always in character, tricks real people into doing funny and sometimes
awful things. But the new film doesn’t reveal as much about our thinly veiled
ugliness as the first one did, for a couple of reasons.
There are 2 key reasons 'Borat 2' doesn't land like the original. A big one is
that so much has been revealed about us already in the last four years. Racists
don’t go to the same trouble to hide themselves or soften their message so much
anymore. Now bigotry is more out in the open.
There’s a scene in the new film set at a rally that is funny because of Baron
Cohen’s performance of a song he wrote with a couple of QAnon members —
seriously, a couple of guys who think the Clintons drink the blood of children.
But other than that it plays like just another gathering of gun-toting white
supremacists. When you see it on the actual news all the time, it’s less
shocking here. It’s somewhat similar to the problem “Saturday Night Live” faces
every week: How do you lampoon something so ridiculous to begin with?
Also, there’s just no getting around that bringing back the original character
for a sequel is going to be less original. It’s the same character doing
variations on the same things. So yes, it’s pretty funny when Borat finds some
unsuspecting mark to fax his boss idiotic messages back in Kazakhstan, but it’s
not wildly different from what we’ve seen before.
There are some differences, of course. The film picks up in real-ish time. Borat
is now breaking rocks while doing hard labor in his home country. He has
embarrassed the nation, it’s decided. But he’s pulled out of incarceration to go
on a special mission: to give President Donald Trump a gift. Trump befriends
ruthless strongman despots around the world, they figure, and Kazakhstan’s
leader wants in on the friend action.
Borat has lost everything. “All I had left was my livestocks — two pig, one cow
and a daughter.” That’s Tutar (Maria Bakalova), who lives with the animals
because despite being 15 she hasn’t gotten married and put in her wife cage. (Borat’s
version of Kazakhstan is a misogynist’s paradise.)
Tutar is watching a Disney-like princess movie about Melania, a peasant girl who
dreams of marrying a rich old man — Fat King Donald, in the cartoon. “I will be
the next Melania,” Tutar says. “She is the happiest wife in the world.” Borat
leaves for the U.S., but events conspire to reunite him with Tutar after he
arrives. The new plan becomes to offer Tutar to Vice President Mike Pence as a
That’s the setup, longer than the one in the first film, when Borat roamed
around with Azamat (Ken Davitian) to eventually find Pamela Anderson. The
journey isn’t as ambitious this time — they travel mostly in the south. And
aspects of the relationship between Borat and Tutar play too large a role in the
story. It’s basically the same joke over and over: Women can’t drive, think,
learn new things, etc. Except, as it slowly dawns on Tutar, in the U.S. they
As with the first film, some real-life people embarrass themselves. An Instagram
influencer instructs Tutar in how to be a “sugar baby,” a younger woman who
dates a much older man. As a woman you never want to be a person who is
aggressive,” Chanel says. “You want to be more submissive. We have to be kind of
weak.” Sounds like she would be at home in Borat’s version of Kazakhstan.
No more spoilers about their adventures, though once again there are some
gross-out scenes. And I have some questions about how much Rudy Giuliani knew
and when he knew it — and if he knew nothing, which I suspect is the case, I
have even more. (You’ll see.)
What is unexpected is the tonal shift in the last part of the movie. Baron
Cohen, working with director Jason Woliner (taking over for the brilliant Larry
Charles), has conditioned us to anticipate the uncomfortable in every scene.
When it doesn’t arrive, well, maybe he’s tricked us again.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” isn’t quite as powerful as “Borat” was. The element
of surprise is gone and the sequel is more plot oriented, tracking the growth of
Tutar’s self-worth, which begins with a bathroom masturbation experience at a
small gathering of female Republicans. There’s a liberation subplot that changes
the daughter and father (adding a little sincerity to the picture), which dials
down the potential for mayhem, but laughs are still plentiful, especially when
COVID-19 crashes the party, with Borat choosing to quarantine with Jim and
Jerry, a pair of right-wing conspiracy nuts who go on and on about Bill and
Hillary Clinton and their preference for drinking blood. “Borat Subsequent
Moviefilm” eventually returns to a political path with a wholly bizarre
interaction with one of Trump’s closest companions, the big moment of the
feature, but it’s hard to top actual American news when it comes to the
unscrupulous behavior of powerful people. Cohen is clearly out to stir something
up with the endeavor, inspiring him to suit up again and deal with the U.S. and
its growing divide, but he’s not constructing a polemic effort, simply exposing
inherent ugliness to generate laughs and horror, and not always in that order.