If you were startled, shocked, amazed, blown away, convulsed, repulsed, awed, flummoxed, knocked out, inspired, thrilled, and/or left speechless and gasping by Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, well, be prepared to have the same experience…or the opposite. I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to get the DVD of Sacha Baron Cohen’s undeniably remarkable comedy to watch it over and over, and laugh really hard every time. And some people are going to feel a mild letdown, a sense of ”Oh, yeah, that was funny the first time around, but was it really such a pop culture event after all?” I understand the first reaction — repeat laughing is what makes both Preston Sturges movies and the Three Stooges immortal — but in this case, I come down on the side of the second.
Borat, the boorish amateur ambassador from a real country made to seem appallingly backward (feverishly anti-Semitic, obsessed with ”sexy time” to the point of incest), is your classic fish-out-of-water who happily pollutes the water. He and his ”producer” (Ken Davitian) embark on a journey to find the true nature of America (which, thanks to Baron Cohen’s edits, proves to be uneducated and bigoted) and to bag (literally) Borat’s object of lust, Pamela Anderson. To his and director Larry Charles’ credit, the only American in the entire film who seems in on this cross-country tour/hoax is Anderson, who in screaming and running away gives her finest acting job in a film with a budget that looks only slightly higher than that of the one she made with Tommy Lee.
Baron Cohen, a fastidious artist, takes care to maintain his put-on right down to the DVD’s design elements. The extras are instead labeled ”Footages Remove From Moviefilm by Decree Kazakh Ministry of Censorship” — and they include some outtakes that deserved to be left out. For example, I’m as much a sucker for mean jokes about cute animals as the next fellow, yet I felt sympathy for the woman at the animal control center who, after Borat describes what he wants to do with the puppy he’s considering for purchase, grabs the little animal back and snaps, ”You’re not going to kill or eat or have sex with my dog!” And while I laughed hard at the Kazakh version of Baywatch, featuring Borat in the David Hasselhoff role, the 16 minutes of Baron Cohen/Borat promoting the movie everywhere from the Toronto film festival to The Tonight Show was a real shock: It was boring. Although to be fair, it may just be that even the mighty Borat cannot bring out funniness in Jay Leno.