Director: Jason Woliner
Writers: Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen and six others (!)
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova, Dani Popescu
After being sentenced to work in a gulag after his disastrous tour of America in 2006 made Kazakhstan a global laughing stock, journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen) is giving the chance by his Government to redeem himself and is sent to America once again to try to persuade those in power to become allies with the leaders of Kazakhstan.
I wrote in my review of Bill & Ted Face the Music that I regarded that as one of the more surprising sequels of recent times, will I must admit that I would also regard Sacha Baron Cohen giving us a sequel to 2006’s uproarious Borat (which was probably his finest hour) as equally surprising, especially as everyone involved seemed to be able to keep it a secret until it was revealed by Amazon a week or so ago.
Well, even without taking 2020 into account, a hell of a lot has happened in those 14 years and the world is quite a different place, which certainly poses more challenges on Cohen’s ability to shock not only the audience, but also unsuspecting members of the public. The main point of Cohen’s characters like Ali G, Borat and Bruno is of course to setup unsuspecting famous people and members of the public to make them look silly and expose some of the more farcical and darker elements of Western society. However, in the age of social media this is no longer quite so unique, so it really does pose the question; why the hell did Cohen decide to resurrect the character of Borat 14 years later and give us another film with very much the same format?
Well, only he knows the actual answer, but it is pretty obvious what (well, more specifically who) the main target of the entire film is, and the upcoming US election may explain the timing of the film’s release. I would argue that the current administration in the US is so ridiculous at times that it is actually beyond parody, and so satire has suffered as a result as often it can only state the blatantly obvious. Along with the fact that the format does feel quite tired at times, Subsequent Moviefilm certainly also suffers from this for the first half of the film as a lot of the jokes and various set pieces just do indeed state the obvious and feel like jokes that have already been told many times over the last four years. They often also do feel like they were written by a committee, which may well be factor of there being a total of eight people with writing credits – cooks, broth, spoilt etc!
Whether they are actually real, staged or just cleverly edited, the various set pieces and gags are certainly often very amusing and occasionally cringe-inducing, but they do not tend to be laugh out loud funny or ever match the extreme absurdities of some of the moments in the original, and they certainly lack any kind of genuine shock factor. Though of course Credit must go to Cohen for his commitment and audacity to put himself in some of the situations that he does. In the film Cohen acknowledges that the character is now well known, so has to adopt various disguises. Though this does admittedly allow Cohen to approach some of his pranks from slightly different angles, the individual set pieces often do feel overlong, baggy and tired, and could have done with some slightly sharper editing.
Thankfully Cohen does realise that his sequel requires an injection of freshness, and so does introduce us to a new character; his daughter Tutar. Though Azamat (his companion from the first film) is very much missed, Maria Bakalova delivers a superb performance as Tutar that not only injects some much-needed freshness, but also an actual overall arc to what is otherwise a predictably episodic narrative. This also allows for plenty of jokes about the (sometimes exaggerated) stereotypes involved in both middle eastern and western cultures, but these tend to be very predictable and obvious, rendering them mildly amusing but never laugh out funny. However, some the moments when it is Tutar talking to unsuspecting members of the public prove to be some of the funniest in the film, as they are just different to those involving Borat.
As the film enters its second half the coronavirus pandemic starts to become more prevalent, and whether this is purely be by accident that it happened while the film was being made or was planned all along, it also provides some of the funnier moments of the film. Though the fact that Subsequent Moviefilm may well be the first film to parody some elements of the pandemic may be solely by luck, it certainly adds some much needed originality to both individual set pieces and some moments of the overall narrative, and though this pandemic has been tragic for many of us and certainly a rough ride for all of us, there is still very much comedy to be found in it, and Cohen does admittedly often judge this very well and provides a rather amusing and interesting (though obviously fictitious) spin on the cause of the pandemic. Another stand out moment that has received plenty of attention is the interview with Rudy Giuliani, and it may well be down to clever editing, but it certainly proves to be the most memorable moment of the film just by the sheer fact that it involves a famous individual acting what appears to be quite inappropriately, and there already appears to be quite a fallout from this.
Though the first is no more than mildly amusing due to feeling like a baggy, repetitive and tired rehash, thanks to both the introduction of a new character and the advent of the coronavirus (I never thought I would ever thank the coronavirus for anything) Subsequent Moviefilm is very much saved by a much sharper and memorable second half.
There was always going to be a number of factors that meant Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm had a very tough job having the kind of impact that Borat did in 2014. Even though it may not be remembered in the same was as its predecessor was, a sharper and more prevalent second half makes up for a lacklustre first, and it still manages to provide some much needed amusement in these predominantly serious times.
At time of writing Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is out in UK cinemas and available to stream on Amazon Prime.