“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” struggles with the same issues that affect all sequels — how to recapture what made the original so captivating.
For the new “Borat,” the problem is compounded because Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 mockumentary about fictional Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev’s visit to the United States succeeded because he was able to trick unsuspecting citizens into saying and doing stupid stuff. Lots of it.
But the sequel is hindered because the element of surprise is gone — which is alluded to early on when Borat returns to the United States and is recognized by numerous people who replicate his most-famous sayings and gestures. In turn, Borat often takes to disguising himself, although a costume store worker does show him a “stupid foreign reporter” outfit that features his trademark suit and a mustachioed man on the plastic bag.
In addition, the number of truly impromptu moments seems far fewer than the original; it appears that more moments were staged than in the original (although the number of staged scenes in the original remains up for debate).
And the sequel, now available on Amazon Prime, lacks a truly signature outrageous moment, such as the nude wrestling scene in the original between Borat and his manager Azamat (Ken Davitian). A couple scenes do come close.
Still, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” has numerous funny, even hilarious, moments and offers plenty of social commentary wrapped up in a goofy package. In other words, if you loved the original, you’ll probably like the new offering — and the twist at the end about Borat’s real mission is pretty good, too.
The new movie shows Borat in a gulag, sentenced to life imprisonment for embarrassing his native Kazakhstan with his first documentary. Borat gets a reprieve, however, when Premier Nursultan Nazarbayev releases him so he can redeem the nation with a gift to President Donald Trump (who Borat calls McDonald Trump) of Kazakh Minister of Culture Johnny the Monkey (I’m not making this up).
Because Borat defecated in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in the first film, he decides to instead give the monkey to Vice President Mike Pence.
When Borat arrives via cargo ship in Texas, he discovers the monkey is dead in its shipping crate, apparently eaten by his 15-year-old wild child daughter Tutar (Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova), who smuggled herself into the country. In the movie’s early moments, we learn about the daughter, so her appearance isn’t a surprise.
Thinking fast, Borat decides that Tutar will become the gift to Pence, gets her a makeover and even introduces her at a debutante ball, which features a major gross-out scene.
Some of the movie’s best moments come when Borat crashes the Conservative Political Action Conference where Pence spoke in February. Borat first shows up in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, announcing that he is Trump’s Jewish adviser Stephen Miller, then as Trump himself.
After getting tossed from CPAC, Borat decides the next best thing would be to give Tutar to Rudy Giuliani, setting up a signature (and somewhat controversial) moment of the film. Various other adventures occur beforehand, including nods to COVID-19 and social distancing.
As with the original, the sequel includes several moments of Jewish-specific content viewed through the lens of anti-Semitic Borat. Some may contend the humor is mean-spirited, but Baron Cohen, who is Jewish, is making a point about how anti-Semitism — or simple ignorance — often bubbles right below the surface.
In one scene, Borat buys a chocolate cake as instructed by his country’s leader. The woman who sells him the cake doesn’t bat an eye when asked to pipe the Charlottesville white supremacist rallying cry of “Jews will not replace us” onto the cake.
It’s also a bit of an in-joke that when Borat is supposedly speaking in Kazakh, he’s actually speaking Hebrew with some gibberish mixed in.
And his scene with a Holocaust survivor who unconditionally accepts the anti-Semite character even borders on touching.
All in all, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is certainly worth a view, especially in these overly tense and hostile times when it might feel good to lighten up now and again.
While the sequel doesn’t quite match the original, Baron Cohen’s been on a roll of late, stealing numerous scenes as Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which debuted on Netflix earlier this month. Hoffman provided much of the comic relief during the trial, so the role isn’t that much of a stretch for Baron Cohen, but he was also excellent in the 2019 drama miniseries “The Spy,” playing Israeli spy Eli Cohen.
Baron Cohen is next slated to appear as the title character in “Mandrake the Magician.”
Andy Gotlieb is managing editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of Washington Jewish Week.