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Dustin Putman

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Learn more about this film on IMDb!Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan  (2006)
4 Stars
Directed by Larry Charles
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
2006 – 82 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 6, 2006.
Shockingly crude, brazenly off-color and wholeheartedly ingenious, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" gleefully bulldozes its way through all barriers of political correctness for 82 marvelous minutes. A comedic masterpiece and possibly the funniest movie in years, this sharp-edged satire of the clashing between Third World and American cultures is like the super-smart cousin of the recent mindless "Jackass: Number Two." That film was a freakshow of grotesque humor and painful stunts, some of them humorous and others just gross, all at the service of nothing. "Borat," however, has a hook to lay its impeccably shrewd gags upon and an eye-opening message about the ugly, laid-back prejudices that still very much exist in the U.S.

Sacha Baron Cohen (2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby") gives a performance worthy of Oscar consideration as the lovably frank and misinformed Borat, a television reporter living in the poverty-stricken country of Kazakhstan who leaves behind his loudmouthed wife and whorish sister ("The #4 prostitute in all of Kazakhstan!" Borat proudly proclaims after making out with her) to travel to the United States. What at first is intended to be a simple trip to New York City to shoot a documentary about his learnings of American customs soon becomes a whirlwind, hazard-prone cross-country journey to California. Borat's driving goal: find Pamela Anderson, whom he has fallen in love with via "Baywatch" reruns, sack her, and claim her as his new bride.

A pseudo-documentary that places the fictional character of Borat in largely real-life situations and among the unknowing public to see how they will react to his ignorance of a culture he only thinks he knows much about, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" is fall-down, rip-roaring hilarious. With an amazing ratio of approximately three to five big laughs per minute, the film succeeds at the impossible by making practically every joke and set-piece work. Equipped with a brisk running time, the movie avoids the trappings of most comedies by never wearing out its welcome or getting bogged down in repetitive or unfunny material. The only humor director Larry Charles (writer of "Seinfeld" and "Entourage") and screenwriters Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer put into the picture is the kind that warrants gasps of disbelief and uncontrollable guffaws.

Thin-skinned viewers who can't take a joke need not even bother. Virtually every race, ethnicity, social standing, sexual preference and prejudice one can think of is attacked with a voracious ribbing based on long-standing stereotypes. In one hugely funny sequence, Borat and assistant Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) find themselves being taken in by a kind-looking elderly couple running a bed & breakfast. All is well until they discover—to much horror and gaped-open mouths—that their host and hostess are Jewish. For men who believe Jews are not to be trusted and are the culprits of 9/11, suddenly their overnight stay becomes a nightmarish experience in which they believe the married couple are intent on poisoning them and are able to shapeshift into spying cockroaches in search of cash to steal.

Pit-stops in a variety of settings and among diverse groups of people—Washington, D.C.; a high-society dinner party; a feminist group; an RV of drunken, increasingly incoherent fratboy revelers; a rodeo of spectators who cheer Borat's declaration that Iraq be destroyed to the point where even lizards will not be able to survive for years to come—are too numerous to fully cover and deserve to be discovered by the viewer without giving away its numerous rowdy pleasures and penetrating observations. The key that keeps "Borat," and Borat, from becoming patently offensive and off-putting is that this Kazakhstan native doesn't know any better. His guilelessness to how people in the U.S. behave and present themselves, and well as his complete confusion in interacting with the nation's different walks of life, is just what makes Borat who he is, and the outrageous and tasteless things he says are a product of this lost-in-translation circumstance.

Meanwhile, Borat comes face to face with real Ugly Americanism—prejudices still existing in today's times in what should be a progressive and free Western country. When this happens, as in a scene where Borat chats with a grossly homophobic cowboy or another where college guys agree that women should be slaves, the results are just as thought-provoking and sobering as they are hysterically backwards. It's amazing, and yet not all that surprising in hindsight, how close-minded and tight-vested a portion of the American population still is.

As Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen is in every scene and nearly every frame of film, creating a character who is an endlessly watchable true original. This is a performance of amazing clarity, nuances, and pitch-perfect comic timing, and the exaggerations he gives his character only serve to make Borat impossible to dislike. Additionally, how Cohen never breaks character and can think so quickly on his feet in particular situations is worth all the praise he can get. In a very funny cameo, Pamela Anderson appears as herself for Borat's inevitable confrontation with his idol, and she proves in spades that she must have a hefty sense of humor.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" makes a case for the idea that the longer a movie's title, the better it is. Furthermore, the film solidifies the notion that the comedy genre can be in every way equal to serious dramatic work when all of the right elements come together. Because cinematic comedies of classic status have fallen to the wayside in current years—Christopher Guest's "Waiting for Guffman" deserves such notoriety, but is coming up on a decade in age—it is easy to forget how fun and funny a movie can genuinely be. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" puts an end to this comedic dry spell and goes one step further. The film is a consistent laugh riot from beginning to end, but it's also more than that—a sweeping travelogue of the country's underbelly and an absolutely brilliant satirical indictment on who we are and where we stand as an American community. A return visit from Borat in a sequel would be welcomed with arms wide open.
© 2006 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman