'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan'

Crude visiting journalist holds nothing back in mocking American culture

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Borat Sagdiyev, the sixth-best-known TV newsman in Kazakhstan, looks like a cross between Frank Zappa and John Wilkes Booth. He has been dispatched to -- well, let's let him speak for himself, directly into the Eyeball Witness News Cam:


"America have most beautiful womens in world!"
Click photo for larger image.

'Borat'

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian.
Director: Larry Charles.
Rating: R for pervasive crude and sexual content, graphic nudity and language.
Web site: www.boratmovie.com/

Related story

Borat is latest in a colorful parade of alter egos

"One years ago, Kazakh Ministry of Information send me to U.S. and A. to make reportings that would help Kazakhstan. ... We want to be like you. America have most beautiful womens in world. It also center for democracy and porno. I like!"

Sacha Baron Cohen IS Borat in "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"-- long coming, and now finally arriving, at a theater near you.

Borat opens the world's most breathtakingly tasteless mockumentary by introducing us to the quaint inhabitants and customs of his village. We see the colorful annual "Running of the Jew," for example, and we learn that in Kazakhstan, it is illegal for more than five women to be in the same place -- except for a brothel or a grave.

Then it's off to New York with Borat and his obese producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), who looks like Bob Hoskins inflated to double size at the Get Go's air pump. Upon arrival, Borat unpacks the live chicken in his suitcase, washes out his underwear in the Hudson and gets down to work interviewing locals about American customs. Soon, however, he is fatally distracted by "Baywatch" reruns and sets forth with Azamat on a cross-country trek to California to fulfill his dream of marrying Pamela Anderson.

This enables Borat -- like Cohen's other alter ego, Ali G, from HBO's "Da Ali G Show" -- to use a journalist's guise to trick gullible real people (feminists, rodeo stars, ex-Congressman Bob Barr) into being interviewed or otherwise interacting with him for the wicked purpose of shocking and mocking them with his (and their own) prejudices.

Talk about risk-taking. Michael Moore's conning of Charlton Heston in "Bowling for Columbine" was mild compared with Borat's crashing of a country-club gourmet dinner party (where he mistakes one of the guests who's "retired" for "retarded" and returns from the bathroom with his do-do in a Baggie).

It's always just a matter of time before he outrages everybody enough to get thrown out, best instance of which is the rodeo sequence. The Western crowd politely applauds when Borat, speaking for all Kazaks, says, "We support your war of terror!" They even clap when he expresses the hope that President George Walter Bush "may drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq." The booing doesn't start until he mangles the "Star-Spangled Banner" by singing the Kazakh national anthem's dubious lyrics to it instead of Francis Scott Key's.

But the scene you'll never forget -- hard as you might try -- is the "dramatic" falling out between Borat and Azamat, which results in a ferocious naked wrestling match in their hotel room that spills out into the hallway, down the elevator and through the lobby. It is, safe to say, the most grotesque piece of extended slapstick in captivity, complete with a mobile black censor's bar that haphazardly follows and tries to cover the nude public combatants' private parts.

In short, there's something to offend everyone in the rampant sexist, misogynist, ethnist, racist, puerile scatological humor here. The British Cohen gets away with his running pseudo-anti-Semitic gags because he is Jewish (his father owns a menswear shop in Piccadilly, his mother's a native Israeli). He wrote his history thesis at Cambridge on Jewish involvement in the American civil rights movement, focusing on the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi.

Christians come in for conning, too, at a glossolalian tent revival that fits in nicely with the mix of broken English, Hebrew, Armenian, Romanian and fake Kazakh dialogue. A kind of silly sweetness underlies Borat's provocative absurdity, which is well exploited and framed by director Larry Charles' good "bad" production values.

Kudos, too, to good sport Pamela Anderson, who does a convincing job of playing herself during an assault and attempted kidnapping.

Nobody's safe and nothing's sacred anymore. "Borat" is not so much politically incorrect as politically incorrigible. With Cohen's preemptive conquest of Kazakhstan, can Kyrgyzstan be far behind?


Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris can be reached at parispg48@aol.com .


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