OCTOBER 28, 2020
It’s rare that a hit comedy has to wait 14 years for a sequel and even rarer that the sequel is even good. But the huge exception to those rules is “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” the sequel to 2006’s wildly popular “Borat” (not doing that film’s whole title again).
Sacha Baron Cohen is back as the clueless Kazakh reporter who returned home from his first trip to America expecting triumphant praise but was instead arrested and sentenced to life in a gulag for bringing shame to the once glorious nation of Kazakhstan. Fourteen years later, he is summoned to the office of Premier Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu, in a fictionalized version of the real Nazarbayev), who offers Borat his potential freedom if he makes one more trip to America. It seems that Nazarbayev wants to rehabilitate the reputation of Kazakhstan with the help of Donald Trump, and he orders Borat to bring Trump a gift so the premier can be considered the kind of strongman that Trump likes.
But because Borat took a poop in front of a Trump hotel on his last visit, the premier feels that the gift should go to another influential Administration member, America’s most notorious horndog, Mike Pence. (“Horndog” is a euphemism for what he actually said.) So plans are set for Borat to travel by cargo ship to America where he will meet a crate containing the gift — Kazak Minister of Culture Johnny the Monkey. Yes, a monkey.
Are you still with me?
Before he leaves, Borat says goodbye to his three sons, one of whom is named Jeffrey Epstein, and then goes to inspect what he calls his livestock, all of whom live in pens — his two pigs, his cow and his 15 year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova).
One query I had when approaching the sequel was how Cohen could surprise people when most Americans already recognize him as Borat? The question is soon answered as he arrives in America when, after being chased by autograph hounds, he ducks into a Halloween store and purchases a number of elaborate disguises, as he awaits the arrival of the crate containing Johnny the Monkey. When the crate gets there, inside is not the monkey, but a bedraggled Tutar. (I’ll leave Johnny’s fate to your imagination.)
Borat must tell the premier that, while he knows he has failed to come up with the gift of a monkey and will face execution, he has an alternative plan — he’ll offer Tutar to Mike Pence as a gift. But first he must turn her into a presentable lady.
Let’s just say that complications ensue.
It’s rare that a film makes the evening news, but “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” has done it twice in the past few months. The first was when Cohen in character took to the stage at a white supremacist rally that on-the-scene newscasters agree did not end well (the film glosses over the ugly aftermath). The second was the inclusion of real politicians — Mike Pence, who is seen from a distance, and most notoriously, Rudy Giuliani who brings Tutar into his bedroom and…well, you’ll have to see the movie to know what America’s Mayor does behind closed doors.
Cohen is his reliable self as Borat, but the real revelation in “Subsequent Moviefilm” is Bakalova, a Bulgarian actress with limited credits who shows that the she’s really got the stuff to do more. Her chemistry with Cohen is palpable — you really believe that this is a father and daughter — but she is even better in her solo scenes, especially with her interactions with Giuliani, which are wonderfully cringe-worthy. This is conceivably an Oscar nomination-worthy performance.
The tricky direction by Jason Woliner and the on-target writing by Cohen (and, it seems, half the population of Toledo, Ohio) is solid under what could only be described as stressful circumstances. Understandably, there are sequences here that don’t quite land, but the success ratio in “Subsequent Moviefilm” is pretty high.
Cohen has clearly shown that he is an actor with range — from Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” to this year’s terrific “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Cohen shouldn’t be typed with just playing Borat, but just a little Borat in these turbulent times might just be the pick-me-up that we will all need.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.