‘Borat 2’ Exposes the Insidious Racism of Trump’s America
Sacha Baron Cohen’s wild sequel sees his titular Kazakhstani journalist tour America once more, embedding with QAnon nuts, pro-lifers, and members of Trump’s inner circle.
It’s been a dumpster fire of a year. Let us give joyous thanks, then, for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the thoroughly unexpected and unbelievably welcome return of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani journalist, which delivers the prankster absurdity—and mockery of red-state conservatives, QAnon crazies, and Trump administration villains—that weary Americans so desperately deserve. Sequels don’t come more triumphant, or well-timed, than this.
(In other words, WAWAWEEWA!)
Shot in secret over the past few pandemic-wracked months, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (debuting Friday, October 23 on Amazon Prime) is a superbly silly satiric follow-up to 2006’s smash hit. Given that Borat’s entire m.o. is inducing hateful utterances and behavior from anti-Semites, racists, xenophobes, and other intolerant folks, his reemergence during a pre-election moment plagued by Trumpian venom, bigotry, and criminality couldn’t be more opportune. Unfortunately, Cohen doesn’t get the commander-in-chief on-camera as he did with Da Ali G Show’s 2003 episode, when he attempted to sell the then-real estate mogul on ice cream-eating gloves. Nonetheless, while Borat’s ridicule of the president currently remains confined to Twitter, he does manage to find a wealth of ideal MAGA dupes for his hidden-camera schemes, not to mention two men very close to Trump: Vice President Mike Pence and lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
[Minor spoilers follow]
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm picks up with the inappropriate foreign reporter in a labor camp, where he’s been toiling away since the maiden Borat feature brought shame and disgrace to Kazakhstan. He earns a reprieve from his sentence courtesy of the country’s premier, who informs him that during his prison term, the United States has been ruined by an “evil man who stood against all American values”—namely, Barack Obama. Now, however, the premier wishes to curry favor with Donald Trump by appealing to his love of strongmen. To accomplish this, he sends Borat back to the states to deliver a present to Pence (“America’s most famous ladies’ man”) that will earn Kazakhstan the respect it covets. As it turns out, the gift in question is Johnny the Monkey, the nation’s most famous porn star (meaning yes, the film’s initially reported title Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan was accurate). Alas, after a long sea voyage, Borat arrives in Galveston to discover that Johnny has not survived the trip, and that a stowaway has taken the animal’s place: Tutar Sagdiyev (Maria Bakalova), his 15-year-old daughter.
Subbing in for Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov (who’s met a comically lethal fate), Tutar is the sidekick who energizes Borat’s ensuing odyssey, grounding the action in a father-daughter relationship that’s defined by the outlandish misogyny to which Borat (and his countrymen) subscribes. A “Daughter Owner’s Manual” published by the Kazakhstan Ministry of Agriculture and Wildlife proves a recurring source of insane inspiration, both for back-and-forths between Borat and Tutar, and for their quest, which involves transforming Tutar into a beautiful offering for Pence. Since the teen girl dreams of being Melania Trump (she even watches a profane Disney-style animated princess film about Trump courting his spouse by grabbing her you-know-what), the idea of being locked in a wifely cage by Pence sounds like a dream come true to Tutar. Thus, the duo set out on the open road, along the way making stops at stores and events where they say and do all sorts of inappropriate and horrific things, including a debutante ball that boasts the proceedings’ biggest laughs.
Via an early sequence in which Borat is hounded by autograph-seeking fans, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm owns up to the reality that Cohen’s character is now too recognizable to fool most. As a result, more than half of the film’s gotcha scenes feature him donning cartoonishly “American” disguises (big bushy beards and long hair, leather jackets, overalls). Still, even with this hindrance, Borat’s central gimmick continues to work astoundingly well. Time and again, American men and women happily agree to trade in disgusting Jewish stereotypes, to espouse pro-life opinions even in the face of abhorrent incest, to exhibit an interest in underage prostitution, and—with a musical number at a white-nationalist rally that manages to one-up Borat’s infamous “Throw the Jew Down the Well” ditty—to sing along to lyrics like, “Infect him with the Wuhan Flu” (regarding Obama and Fauci), and “Chop them up like the Saudis do” (referencing journalists and the WHO).
As that last example illustrates, the ongoing pandemic comes to play an integral role in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, as Borat somehow manages to quarantine with two QAnon lunatics for days on end, listening to their opinion that the Clintons drink the blood of underage children, even as they decry Borat’s nonsensical childbirth ideas as a “conspiracy theory.” It’s no shock to hear hillbilly MAGA-ites blathering on about “dangerous” Democrats, or to see a crowd of them repeat Borat’s declaration that “Corona is a liberal hoax.” Yet Cohen’s sly ruses never fail to impress or amuse, because his aim is so accurate; through his and Bakalova’s caricatured performances, as well as the responses they elicit from their targets, the film brutally skewers right-leaning Americans for their increasingly loud-and-proud prejudices and extremism.
Though Borat’s trademark tactics and catchphrases are familiar, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm ably stands on its own, thanks to Bakalova’s uninhibited turn as the systematically-oppressed Tutar—whose path leads to feminist self-actualization—and a story that, by its conclusion, taps into our present Trump-fueled nightmare of COVID tragedy, ugly rhetoric, and social unrest. There’s something simultaneously exhilarating and depressing about watching Borat compel morons to decry masks and Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the latter emotion might overwhelm the former if not for Cohen’s infectiously upbeat and irrepressibly loony character, whose desire to give away his progeny and consequently earn the admiration of his homeland turns out to be the perfectly loony premise for a saga designed for deriding deplorables.
Credited to eight writers (although you wouldn’t know it from the madness at hand), director Jason Woliner’s sequel is ultimately an even more political work than 2006’s original, shining a censorious spotlight on the segments of our population that have done so much damage to America’s culture, reputation, and democracy. Whether getting a baker to promote a Charlottesville-style white power slogan, or an Instagram influencer to state that acting “weak” and “submissive” is the best way to get rich old men to fork over money, Cohen’s second Borat adventure damns through uproarious antics. It’s the rare comedy follow-up to equal the hilarity, and outraged power, of its predecessor.
For more, listen to Sacha Baron Cohen on The Last Laugh podcast.