Borat Subsequent Nightgown Sporting Corporate Spokesmouse to Make Fun on Glorious Nation of Disneyland: Two thumbs up!
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the sequel we prayed for but never dreamed possible, is now a reality. It’s been 14 years since Sacha Baron Cohen’s signature character made his big screen debut. In no time, the racist, sexist, scion of political incorrectness became a household name. Was anyone left to play along? Who among us doesn’t know Borat? Rejoice: people will do anything when a camera is pointed in their direction. There’s the baker, for one, who uses her cake-writer to scribble “Jews will not replace us” across the top of a pastry. And I’m not sure if Michael Pence recognized the guy dressed in the Trump fat suit who interrupted his CPAC 2020 speech. Watch out, White House. Borat’s back — and this time, he’s taking prisoners.
Sprung from a chain gang, our plucky hero is sent by government of Kazakhstan to America; the authorities are looking to expunge the stain of humiliation still visible from his last trip. Gone is Azamat (Ken Davitian). This is one sequel determined to be more than just a bigger-budgeted remake. This time, Borat arrives bearing presents, though not as intended, seeing as how Kazakh pornstar Johnny the Monkey died in transit. Fortunately, Borat’s 15-year-old daughter Tutar Sagdiyev (Maria Bakalova, up for the task), who has stowed away in the chimpanzee’s crate, would make a perfect gift for America’s most famous ladies’ man, Michael Pence. For this, Dad must first make her look presentable — “prepare her for market,” as he puts it.
An “Instagram influencer” instructs Tutar on how to snag a rich husband. A plastic surgeon puts to rest any fear that the young woman’s nose makes her look even remotely Jewish. She asks if the spacious kennel in which she sleeps comes close to matching the beauty of First Lady’s “wife cage.” (We all could have stood more of King Donald and Princess Melania’s straight-to-video animated variation on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.) And to Rudy “Fluffer” Giuliani, we say: the best way to tuck in one’s shirt and remove a microphone is with your back on a mattress and your feet pressed flat against the floor.
Like its predecessor, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is an unremitting wellspring of laughs, many refreshingly disgraceful. As with everything Cohen signs his name to, the artist’s mind may be in the gutter, but his moral compass generally points due north. Throwaway gags brought gales of giggles — the Johnny the Monkey/lipstick gag almost splintered my knee from the slapping it took — but this was the first time Cohen asked more of his audience than their laughter. His experiment in empathy was a resounding success. The film’s two most memorable civilian exchanges involve Jeanise Jones, an African-American woman hired to babysit Borat’s wild child; and a Holocaust survivor he encounters while taking refuge at a synagogue. Compare them to the redneck who makes a strong first impression by offering Borat shelter from the pandemic. Once indoors, our innkeeper and his equally oblivious roomie champion “Pizzagate,” both secure in their knowledge that Hillary Clinton drinks the blood of babies.
Crude? You bet, though not near as obscene as suggesting people inject household disinfectants as a cure for covid-19. Not all of it connects. We’ve seen the redneck sing-along before, and Tutar’s first brush with self-pleasure in the middle of a meeting of the Hillsborough Republican Women’s Club was too easy a target. Fear plays as much a part in the film as laughter. I found it frightening to watch Pence assure the crowd at CPAC that “the risk to the American public remains low, we’re ready for anything.” In Cohen’s universe, the virus was spread around the world to get even for a cruel joke, similar to the one that was elected in 2016. ★★★★
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
On the Rocks — The poster art for On the Rocks bears more than a passing resemblance to a moment from Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray’s hit from yesteryear, Lost in Translation. Surely they weren’t trying for a repeat May/December romance this time between Murray and Rashida Jones? Initial relief (the two play father and daughter) is quickly felled by dad’s extra-pervy asides about people mistaking his daughter for his date. Felix (Murray) is a raconteur with money to spare, a playboy with a big personality who is quick to flirt with anything in a skirt and charming to the point where he can talk himself out of a speeding ticket. When his daughter Laura (Jones) suggests that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) might be carrying on an affair with his account manager, bored Felix, looking for a way to get back into her life, decides to play detective. What begins with dad encouraging Laura to go through her husband’s texts ends up with the two tailing Dean on what may or may not be a Mexican business trip. Fans of characters one loves to hate will find great pleasure in Murray’s disagreeableness. He has played unappealing types in the past, but none more smugly repellent than Felix. And I haven’t liked one of Coppola’s films this much since Lost in Translation. It’s her most mature work to date, and Felix her most complex creation. (One wonders how daddy Francis felt after seeing the picture.) The performances are superb at all levels; how wonderful it was to see Barbara Bain as Laura’s crusty grandmother, the first to sow seeds of suspicion. The film begins to totter only when the otherwise dependable Jenny Slate is wasted as the galpal Laura never has any time for. 2020 —S.M. ★★★★
The Witches — Please excuse the disadvantaged viewpoint, but having never read Roald Dahl’s source novel nor seen Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 big screen adaptation, it’s difficult to determine how much of the dark appeal of Robert Zemeckis’ remake can be attributed to the filmmaker. The setting’s been modified from England to Alabama at the tail end of 1967, but one would be hard-pressed to justify the shift, given how little mention is made of the Civil Rights Movement. (And what’s with the anachronistic disco dance-along to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”?) If Polar Express was meant as a metaphor for the Kindertransport, surely all of the experimentation that goes on towards the outset is a direct nod to Dr. Mengele? Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch takes full advantage of her digitally extensible grin, barbering the scenery while her counterpart, Octavia Spencer’s alprazolam-voiced Granny, acts as a calming agent, lest the youngsters in the audience spend the first third of the picture looking on from behind a parent’s arm. The setup and payoff are exquisitely staged, and the visual humor, particularly the festival of exploding witches, is nowhere near as oppressive as Zemeckis’ past effects-hikes. The middle section could have used a support beam, however; the trio of transfigured mice leave one longing for the simpler times of Chip ‘N Dale. Wikipedia assures me that unlike its predecessor, this version’s ending is faithful to Dahl’s vision. If your kid’s nerves can stand it, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. 2020 —S.M. ★★