Back when Scream was a big deal–when Scream 3 was a big deal, actually–the ads for Bats started coming out. Bats spelled backwards is Stab, the Scream movie-in-movie… and it was from some unknown company with a suspiciously comic cast. I thought Miramax was going the extra mile and creating a sensation around their franchise. They weren’t. Borat is kind of the same thing and kind of not the same thing. If it were just performance art–just Sacha Baron Cohen going around pretending have made a movie about this guy and keeping in character the whole time–it would have been successful. As a film however, an eighty-four minute film, Borat is a disappointment. It’s not an inevitable disappointment, something unable to live up to the hype–it’s just not a good film. It’s long and there’s maybe twenty minutes without any real laughs, once you catch on. The problem with the humor is it’s stupid. Anyone (with a production deal) could do Borat.
The joke, after the staged scenes set in Kazakhstan is Cohen harassing people in character. But then, slowly, you stop buying the unscripted story (which director Larry Charles says is all real–but I read Defamer, so I know it’s not–no spoilers). People don’t react right. There’s a slickness to the production. Some of it certainly is unscripted, but definitely not all of it. I guess the scenes are staged, but the dialogue is unscripted (similar to “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). The film’s spontaneous is very reserved, uninteresting (for the most part) ways.
Charles has a lot of experience with pseudo-reality from that show, but he doesn’t utilize it here. Borat shows itself most in terms of the cameraman–Borat, the character, is supposedly being filmed all the time by a cameraman, but the cameraman is a) never referenced as a living person and b) some of the shots are impossible. The movie’s funny enough for a while it doesn’t matter, as Borat travels across the country, but then Cohen seems to have lost interest because after spending about an hour getting from New York to Georgia, he gets to California in ten minutes.
The film is funny, but it’s absurd and I can’t imagine ever watching it again. The clips available online–for free–are just as funny, maybe even more so.
Directed by Larry Charles; written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer, based on a story by Baron Cohen, Baynham, Hines and Todd Phillips, and a character created by Baron Cohen; directors of photography, Anthony Hardwick and Luke Geissbühler; edited by Peter Teschner and James Thomas; music by Erran Baron Cohen; produced by Baron Cohen and Jay Roach; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Ken Davitian (Azamat), Luenell (Luenell), Alex Daniels (Naked Fight Coordinator), James P. Vickers (Kidnapping Consultant), Peewee Piemonte (Safety) and Michael Li, Harry Wowchuk and Nicole Randall (Action Team).