Rebel with a Cause

Comedy doesn’t work without timing, and Sacha Baron Cohen picked the perfect time to reprise his role as fictional Kazakh TV journalist Borat. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (i.e. “Borat 2”) has Borat return for bigger laughs instigating unsuspecting Americans thanks to an equally adept comedic co-star in Maria Bakalova and a better foil for his folly- the Trump Presidency.

 “Borat 2” begins with Borat toiling in a hard labor gulag for embarrassing Kazakstan in his first film 14 years ago. The government pulls him out of the gulag to travel to the U.S. and make amends with the Americans by offering a gift to the Presidential powers that be. With the U.S. and Kazakstan as allies, Borat’s cinematic sins will be forgiven.

 Packing to travel to America, Borat discovers he has a daughter, Tutar (Bakalova). 15 years old and feral, Tutar lives in a barn watching a Kazakh cartoon called “Melania,” a Cinderellaesque fable where a girl like herself is whisked away to live happily ever after with Prince McDonald Trump. Tutar wants to go to America with Borat. When he refuses, Tutar smuggles herself into the gift’s crate and surprises Borat upon reaching America.

 While I won’t spoil what the gift was, Tutar ate it while in the crate. Borat is forced to come up with another offering. As the gift was designed for V.P. Mike Pence, a noted womanizer in Kazakstan, Borat asks the Kazakh government to offer Tutar to Pence instead. The deal is struck: if Tutar’s offering doesn’t fly, Borat will die.

 What follows is Borat giving Tutar a makeover and taking her to Pence’s next appearance. Along the way, the two shock and satirize their unsuspecting American prey. As with 2006’s “Borat,” ordinary people become part of the story a la Candid Camera. While there’s no evident film crew, “Borat 2” feels like a documentary.

 Ranging from encounters with a debutante ball in Macon, Ga. to QAnon members in the Northwest, “Borat 2” seeks out conservative groups to skewer and succeeds, with a blend of Mel Brooks silliness and Michael Moore political satire. Directed by Jason Woliner, “Borat 2” offers camera coverage that makes you wonder how much is staged or done through hidden cameras. Regardless, the situations are funny and from what you gauge through reaction shots and responses of the unsuspecting makes up for any lingering doubt of authenticity.

 While I wasn’t a fan of “Borat” when it raised the level of crudity to shock, I liked “Borat 2:” it tempers the shock value though it still reaches for it. Cohen sharing the screen with Bakalova also helps dilute the delirium, and she’s a real find. With what she’s asked to do and say alongside Cohen, Bakalova holds her own. Bakalova, who in a lot of ways looks like Cohen’s real-life wife actress Isla Fisher (“Wedding Crashers”, “Tag”), is easily convincing as his daughter. With the same comedic deadpan and timing as Cohen, the behind-the-scenes con the two are working made me reminiscent of the onscreen chemistry Ryan and Tatum O’Neal shared in 1973’s “Paper Moon.”

 While the movie will probably best be remembered for a scene with Rudy Giuliani, where Tutar plays a flirty journalist who gets him alone in a hotel room, “Borat 2” has more going for it than a big screen version of “Punk’d.” It offers a look into the American conservative left that lets you judge which is more off-balance: the fictional storyline or the factual responses.  Coming days before the presidential election is a savvy tactical ploy. Judging whether it’s real or wrangled may be up to the audience, but it entertains as it does so. “Borat 2” succeeds by being silly, satirical and, with Cohen and Bakalova leading the way, a smart send-up of American society.   

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