What a country!
Borat is daring, funny and scathingly satirical. It is also outlandish, erratic and—at times—merely obnoxious.
The outlandishness is plainly part of Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical plan, but the overall results onscreen are uneven at best.
As a movie, comic or otherwise, Borat is a fitfully fascinating mess. The gleefully non-PC humor is by definition messy, but the scrappy mélange of episodes that emerges in the long run proves scattershot in both humor and effect.
The title character (Cohen in the guise of a flamboyantly clueless TV personality from Kazakhstan) exudes a cheerfully transgressive sort of comedy. The character’s faux-documentary-style encounters with America and Americans make for some increasingly sharp bursts of social satire, with Borat’s patently ridiculous sexist and racist habits finding glimmers of their American counterparts in visits to a gun shop, a car dealer, an antique store, a rodeo, a Pentecostal church, etc.
Most of that, including the rodeo, takes place in the American south, and thus the laughs sometimes come a little too easily. Still, whatever is quietly discomfiting in those scenes breaks out into blatant disturbance in the movie’s most emblematic and problematical scenes—Borat bonding drunkenly with some road-tripping frat boys from South Carolina, and a lunatic bout of nude wrestling between Borat and his lumpy-looking Kazakh TV producer (played by Ken Davitian).
Does gross-out performance art work effectively as satire or as comedy? I’m not sure about that, but the chief brilliance of Borat is less in performance and execution than in the conceptual daring of its assorted provocations.