Borat (2006) (R)

Full title: ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer
Directed by Larry Charles

Every last frame of Borat is designed to incense, to enrage, to get you off your feet and yelling abuse at the screen. To offend. It is expressly designed to piss you, the paying audience member, off; a shallow exercise in depravity and baseness, a shameless effort to perpetuate stereotypes that haven’t been a problem for 25 years or more. It makes a mockery of anything and everything we hold sacred.

Borat underhandedly takes the guise of a comedy. We see the ‘hero’, this one-joke fake whose very existence makes fun of an entire nation, as he travels across the United States from setup to unfunny, defamatory setup. Much has been made of the anti-Semitism in the film – the Jews did 9/11, the Jews will take your money, the Jews will kill you, and so on – but the film contains even greater shocks. Racism and homophobia are celebrated, churches are ridiculed. A bear is cruelly mistreated, as is a pet chicken.

The most outrageous section of the film is an extended sequence of full male nudity. I have never, in all my years reviewing films, come across anything as outrageous and purposeless as this sequence. A tip: it isn’t enough to simply show something like this for it to be funny. It needs to work in the context of the film. Not that this scene could ever be funny – it’s as provocatively poor a bit of comedy as you’ll see.

Clearly, Sacha Baron Cohen is not a student of classic British comedy – his work here bears no resemblance to the intelligence of Monty Python, Steptoe & Son or Blackadder, instead stooping to the present American trends of lowest-brow humour such as that espoused by the idiots on shows such as Jackass. It’s symptomatic of this worldwide trend away from smart comedy. There is no satire here, no trace of irony. We are shown gag after unfunny gag, thrown at us in the hope that something sticks. It isn’t the volume of jokes that matters, Mr. Baron Cohen, but the quality of them. Go back from whence you came, and don’t try this sort of thing again…