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The San Diego Union-Tribune

'Borat' is one fine make good movie, yes?


November 2, 2006

The humor is right there in the full title: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

Relish the almost Joycean richness of that, and you will gladly consume “Borat.” If not, then either “Borat” is not for you, or your sense of humor has been exiled to Kazakhstan.

Borat Sagdiyev, tall and moustached, could be the handsomest man in his Kazakh village. He's also, nearly always, a clueless doof. He is played to perfection by Sacha Baron Cohen, who, being Jewish, can get away with a gag in which a nice Jewish couple offer Borat snacks and are seen by him as satanic “shape shifters” to be kept at bay by frantic tossings of cash.

The De Tocqueville of dolts, Borat has come to America to make a cheesy video film that will explain us to his countrymen. Wide-eyed but profoundly blinkered, he is likable in an often crassly stupid way, and he speaks English that must have been curdled with goat yogurt.


Rated R; Opens tomorrow

Borat is a marvel of suavity next to his “director,” Azamat, who speaks no English and looks like a badly wrapped pig. In a Dallas hotel, having nearly gone broke, they tangle (in the nude) over Borat's beloved magazine on “Baywatch.”

The friends make up, though Borat briefly confuses Azamat (Ken Davitian) with Hitler. While he learns something of American ways from New York feminists, nice Jews, genteel Dixie racists, street rappers, born-again believers and frat-boy drunks, Borat remains fanatically keen to “bag” (literally) Pamela Anderson, whom he adores and who must have a fine sense of humor.

Can this oddball find its crowd? The brash content and perhaps an overload of Web noise have made some theater chains dubious. So, Fox scaled back to a tiered release, hoping for word of mouth to click in fast (if not, expect a cultish run on DVD).

“Borat” is an inspired road-trip spoof, and stars an insular America tickled (no, groped) by a moronic visitor. Only a humorless, Boratonic boob could not see that Cohen is hurling darts at PC mania, rustic sloth, racism, anti-Semitism, nativism, sexism, sex mania, prudery, snobbery, soft comedy, used car salesmen and TV kitsch.

There are snipes at rodeo, hyper-patriotism and, God help Cohen, the national anthem. Lordly help may be needed to help him fend off outrage from Kazakhs, who seem determined to prove Borat's assertion that, “U.N. report says Kazakhstan have 98th sense of humor.” Or even lower?

Inevitably, imbecilic, sober American editorials have rallied to defend the honor of Kazakhstan, with its valuable oil and military attachments to us. Cohen, a Brit of Pythonesque zest and sly, audacious vulgarity, couldn't hope for better publicity, though he might have been wise to have faked a nation of obscure origin, perhaps Slobovakia or Swarthistan.

When perennial candidate and publicity hog Alan Keyes shows up, seemingly clueless about Cohen's gig, “Borat” achieves an almost measureless mirth of foolishness. What Cohen does is comedy, and the proof is laughter.

Of course, that's up to us. With our help, “Borat” can move the United States above Kazakhstan on the U.N. laff meter.


 A 20th Century Fox release. Director: Larry Charles. Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips. Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson, Alan Keyes. Running time: 1 hr., 28 min.

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