Review: ‘Borat’ takes on Trump and COVID-19 with as much venom as the first film

(Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios) Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen, left) finds being recognized makes his mission to America difficult, in the new satirical comedy, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm."

Sacha Baron Cohen has not lost his talent to apply shock tactics, and a trunk full of disguises, to create pointed commentary about American politics and culture — which he collects in the sharp-elbowed satirical comedy “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
It’s been 14 years since Baron Cohen unleashed his character Borat Sagdiyev, the politically and often factually incorrect Kazakh journalist, onto the United States, often interacting with Americans who weren’t in on the joke. The fact that Baron Cohen managed to make a sequel, filming at the start of the year just as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to hit, is surprising. The fact that it’s also tartly funny is a small miracle.
The original “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” was a hit in the United States — but as Borat tells it, not so popular back home in Kazakhstan. The country’s rulers blamed Borat for the embarrassment he brought to Kazakhstan, and sentenced him to hard labor in a gulag.
Now, though, the president of Kazakhstan wants to get into the current American president’s inner circle of dictators (a club, Borat explains, that includes Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro). Borat is assigned to bring a gift to “vice premier Michael Pence” to get to the supreme leader, “McDonald Trump.”
When Borat gets to America and opens the crate with the gift, he instead finds his 15-year-old daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Borat reluctantly accepts Tutar as his traveling companion, thinking he can make her the gift to Pence — who, Borat surmises, must have an astounding sexual appetite, which is why he never can be alone in a room with a woman.

What follows is a cross-country odyssey through the darker parts of America, as Borat — who learns that too many Americans remember the first movie — uses a variety of disguises to allow a host of strangers to let their collective guard down and show just how racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic or just plain stupid some people can be.
Tutar turns out to be a key addition to the cause, giving Borat’s casual sexism — only described verbally in the first movie — a human target. Tutar is no doormat, though, and Bakalova, a Bulgarian actor making her U.S. debut, keeps pace with the quick-witted Baron Cohen from start to finish. When father and daughter yell at each other in presumably gibberish Kazakh, it’s impressively hilarious.
Director Jason Woliner and a team of nine screenwriters cleverly blur the lines between what’s true — i.e., people who don’t know they’re being punked — and what’s partly fake or pure invention. For sure, two major set pieces involve familiar political figures who aren’t playing, and the finale includes a cameo by an extremely famous person who clearly is in on the joke. (I’m avoiding spoilers here, so Amazon Studios, which begins streaming the movie on Prime Video on Friday, doesn’t throw me in a gulag.)
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” can’t deliver the same shock value that the original did, because we’re more wise to Baron Cohen’s act. What’s most astonishing in the new film is how many people either don’t know what he’s up to, or don’t care enough to stop being their deplorable selves.
‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’
Sacha Baron Cohen’s clueless and profane Kazakh journalist is back, spreading sharp satire in the age of the coronavirus.
Where • Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
When • Starting Friday, Oct. 23.
Rated • R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and language.
Running time • 96 minutes; in English and apparently fake Kazakh, with subtitles.
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