3 stars


15th November 2006

All you need is a cliché. A walking, talking cardboard cut out of extremism. Clueless wannabe suburban gangster? Boyakasha, me be Ali G! Ignorant, sexist pig from a country most people haven't heard of? My name-a Borat! A dayglo east European camp fashionista? Ich bin Bruno, coming to ein multiplex near you! Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is finally here and.... it's alright.

Do you remember the bit in Broadcast News, where William Hurt fakes crying during an interview to make compelling television? For the seasoned movie buff, Borat is just as fake. Whilst there's no doubt Sacha Baron Cohen must have balls of steel to pull off some of the utterly bizarre and outlandish moments in this film - especially with unwitting participants at dinner parties, rodeos and business meetings - Borat is a big lie about the Big Lie that is the American Dream.

But what a lie. Far, far superior to such lowest-common-denominator rubbish as Jackass 2 - which is just stupid goofing without context or any cultural worth - Borat at least attempts to expose the sometimes ugly, not-so-hidden values of middle America. Fully aware that they are on camera, the numpties of the Bible Belt gleefully expose their vile beliefs that masquerade as honour: the Rodeo owner joking about how a good Christian Country aims to kill all the homosexuals, the Frat Boys bragging about bitches and the gun-store owner who recommends the best rifle with which to kill a Jew. Almost everyone he meets seems to trip over their own prejudices, and it makes for wince-inducing viewing.

Frankly, if you've seen the trailer, then you'll feel as if you've seen half of the movie: the best line has already been trotted out in the teaser earlier this year. Whilst some critics say that the film trails off in the last half an hour, that's only because nothing in the last half an hour is in the trailer at all - a shame, because at least one scene - where Borat meets Mr. Jesus - is as ruthless as anything I've seen. Thankfully, in the tradition of South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker, nothing is sacred, not even Borat's safety - the Kazakh reporter was arrested by burly security goons at least twice, had the police called on him 91 times, was punched in the face, and roundly booed by large crowds during shooting. But be warned - despite the acute social commentary in the movie, Borat is also a set of bargain basement unsophisticated tit and dick jokes. One scene, in which Borat returns to a dinner party with his own faeces in a plastic bag, is undeniably funny, but it's basically a retread of a skit in the TV show (the scene unfortunately does not feature the line: "I had a good shit").

The faux-documentary format can't help but wear thin after a while, and it's obvious that this film features numerous reconstructions of events that spoil the cinema-verite illusion. However, that's not to say you won't have fun singling out which scenes are genuine and which are bogus - the line between them is fine to say the least (one scene featuring travelling US frat boys looked dead fake, until I learned that one of them is suing the filmmakers). Cohen's next film, featuring gay Austrian reporter Bruno, will have to try hard not to follow the law of diminishing returns and find fresh targets. With Borat, Cohen has harvested his talent to produce an interesting but ultimately shallow exercise in cruelty that is either a brilliant satire of the moral bankruptcy of America's moral value, or a bunch of juvenile arsing about, depending on which way you look at it.

More:  Comedy
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