Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan review by Mike Long

I've gotten pretty good at avoiding movie spoilers (especially since I cancelled my subscription to Fangoria magazine). However, as someone who reads the daily entertainment news (ie: not the gossip, but actual news), it's often hard to avoid the hype. For example, when Borat hit theaters in late 2006, it was nearly impossible to get away from the buzz surrounding the movie. From the lawsuits to the fact that Fox had reduced the number of theaters just before the film opened (and still had a huge hit on their hands), the movie and its star, Sacha Baron Cohen, was everywhere. Based on what I was hearing, I decided that I would either love the film or hate it. Imagine my surprise when the film had an oddly benign effect on me.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is a mockumentary. Sacha Baron Cohen stars as Borat Sagdiyev, a television reported from Kazakhstan. Borat, along with his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), have been given an assignment by the Ministry of Information to go to the "U S and A" and report on the culture of America. As Borat arrives in New York City, he is amazed by how different America is from the dirty and backwards country from which he traveled. He interviews people from different walks of life in an attempt to learn about America, but often offends them with his odd behavior and his anti-Semitic remarks. Upon seeing Pamela Anderson on TV, Borat decides that he must meet this woman and thus convinces Azamat to venture to California and tour America along the way.

In many ways, Borat is a mixture of This is Spinal Tap and Jackass. The film contains scenes which are clearly scripted and staged, such as the entire opening in "Kazakhstan" and Borat's arrival in the New York hotel room. These scenes are intertwined with unscripted moments where Cohen thrusts his Borat character upon unsuspecting victims such as a dinner party, a feminist group, and a crowd at a rodeo. We also similarly themed scenes which have a more casual feel, such as when Borat takes a driving lesson or when he meets a trio of very drunk fraternity brothers from the University of South Carolina.

By its very nature then, Borat offers an interesting combination of humor. Not unlike Jackass or South Park, the humor in the film is either quite shocking or very clever...all the while being somewhat dumb. For example, Borat tells the crowd at the rodeo, "We support your war of terror." By simply saying "of" instead of "on", Cohen has created a very clever joke, and the roaring response from the crowd is simply the punctuation to this prank. In contrast, the scene where Borat and Azamat fight in the nude is nearly numbing in the way that it shocks the viewer.

Again, given all that I'd heard about the film, I expected it to be funnier. Granted, I did laugh a few times, but I found most of the scenes to be more cringe-worthy than funny. Truth be told, Borat's poorly-worded asides were often more funny than the scenes themselves. However, I did find the movie to be fascinating (and embarrassing) as a social experiment. While I don't totally understand why Borat is so anti-Semitic (is this a big thing in Eastern Europe?), the fact that he makes many disparaging remarks against Jews to several people in the film who do not respond to him or question him or correct him is quite arresting. Assuming that these scenes weren't staged, the film depicts American's as ignorant racists who won't question the beliefs of others. The people in the film are disgusted by Borat if he talks about rape or fecal matter, but they never comment on his racial slurs. No wonder so many of them sued.

Borat is worth seeing, if for no other reason than to see what all of the hype is about. It's interesting that a movie which one would think would fall outside of the mainstream became a big hit...especially when one considers how the film makes Americans look so ignorant. The movie certainly has some funny moments, and it's not surprising that Cohen received some nods for his performance in the film, as he totally loses himself in the role.

Borat invades America on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate versions, one widescreen and the other fullframe. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The quality of the image essentially falls into two categories here. Most of the film looks quite good, as the picture is sharp and clear. However, some of the film was clearly shot with what was most likely a hidden camera, and these scenes are somewhat blurry and grainy in places. The colors are good and the transfer is mostly free from artifacting defects. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There are many notable audio effects here, although the music sounds fine and the crowd noise in the rodeo scene offers some nice surround sound.

The Borat DVD contains a few extras. There are 8 DELETED SCENES, most of which show Borat annoying yet another person. The most interesting one takes place in an animal shelter where Borat attempts to find a dog who will "attack Jews". The employee is clearly offended by this and tells Borat that he's making a mistake. I can't help but wonder if this scene was cut because this woman actually listened to him and questioned him. "Global Propaganda Tour" (17 minutes) features many of Cohen's promotional appearances for the film, including the San Diego Comic-Con and the Toronto Film Festival. The two best ones are his appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show where Borat harasses Martha Stewart. "Musics Infomercial" (1 minute) is a fake commercial for the soundtrack. I've read that Cohen is a very private person and rarely breaks character, but I would have loved a featurette which examined how the film was made.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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