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BORAT
Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Vavitian
Director:  Larry Charles
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  84 Minutes
Release Date:  March 6, 2007

“You kiss me, I’m gonna pop you in the f**king balls!”

“What mean, ‘balls’?”

Film ***

Borat is either a work of lunacy or genius.  Maybe both. 

British star Sacha Baron Cohen (of Da Ali G Show) took his character from Kazakhstan on a romp across the fruited plains of America to learn what makes our country tick.  The result is brash, crude, politically incorrect, and mostly frightfully funny.

It’s a combination of actual candid scenes he shot with unsuspecting participants and scenes that were obviously written and mapped out in advance, and if you know anything about moviemaking you can easily separate them. That doesn’t diminish from the overall effect of a sweet but clueless foreigner reporting on “the greatest country in world”.

To describe the plot of Borat is to tick off the skits one by one, which I don’t want to do.  Suffice to say, he arrives in New York, learns the hard way that New Yorkers don’t like to be touched, falls in love with Pamela Anderson on Baywatch, and makes his new goal to get across the country to California and make her his bride.

What happens in between is one hysterical misadventure after another.  The genius of Borat is that he doesn’t understand that he should censor himself, and the resulting reactions from those around him are priceless.  Some are highly offended, but we Americans seem an accommodating bunch…many just go with the flow and don’t try to make the humble foreigner feel like a jackass.

Much has been made of the scene of Borat singing the national anthem at a rodeo.  He begins by praising our country’s “war of terror” to enthusiastic cheers, but as his praise gets weirder and more off the mark, the audience gets uncomfortable and restless.  And when he sings, he gets the only reaction possible.  Borat may not have heard of Roseanne Barr, but I’m sure Sacha has.

My favorite scene involves a proper dinner party, where Borat attempts to learn American etiquette.  You can’t possibly imagine how wrong it goes, even if you have a great imagination.  But there’s more, including a few scenes that could be regarded as homosexual in content, that is, if Borat had any concept of homosexuality. 

I can’t go as far as some critics in calling it one of the funniest movies of all time, but it definitely IS funny, as well as fresh and original and with a disorienting charm that’s hard to resist.  I doubt Mr. Cohen can possibly milk this bizarre character for any more goods, but I expect we’ll find out.

Video ***

The anamorphic transfer is good overall, as the film ranges from decent stock to more ‘hurried’ looking footage, which serves the fake documentary feel well.  In other words, you’ll see some grain, some softness, but the look is almost another character in and of itself.

Audio **

The audio is par for the course for a mostly spoken-word movie.  Not a lot of action or dynamic range, but it isn’t needed.

Features ***

I’m gonna break with tradition here, and start the extras reporting with the clever packaging:  you slide off the normal looking cardboard sleeve, and you’re looking at a DVD case that looks like it was made off of some crappy printer.  Look closely…the writing is all Russian.  Yes, friends, you’re looking at an illegal Russian bootleg.  The DVD inside matches perfectly!

And the menu screens are a hoot…very smartly done.  For fun, go to the languages and select “Hebrew”.  Yikes!

As far as actual features, there are 8 deleted scenes, a hilarious ‘music promo’, and a look at the global PR tour.

Summary:

Welcome to America, Borat…I’d like to think you enjoyed your stay, but maybe that’s for someone else to say.  I, for one, enjoyed your movie, and am always grateful to laugh long and hard at things society tells us never to laugh at.  High five!

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