Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Snap judgement: The Borat Movie

Sacha Baron Cohen's smash hit Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was able to dominate the news cycle in the run up to its release. It has been in the spotlight ever since, lately with a report that Cohen, in Borat character, was assaulted in New York, and with the news of lawsuits both tricked Eastern European villagers and fooled American frat boys are bringing against the film's producers. (We're not that different after all!)

There has also been a parade of ruminations from reviewers and public intellectuals on what the movie and the movie's success means: Are Americans gullible fools? Could there be pogroms in the "exceptional" USA? Is the whole thing a joke, and the laugh is on the red states?

I watched the hilarious film last night and can report that not only aren't these questions answered but they aren't even addressed. Anyone who says otherwise either didn't see the movie -- but did see the harder-edged Borat sketches on the Ali G show -- or brought their own preconceived notions into the film and didn't bother to consider what was happening on the screen.

The only broad conclusion I could draw from Borat, the movie, is Americans are very tolerant of a foreigner and his odd customs until those odd customs breach human decency, and then they begin to lose patience with the customs and the foreigner. Not exactly an earth shattering revelation.

The film did contain one truly shocking scene involving a prolonged, very naked wrestling match between Cohen and his rotund male co-star. Even if you know it's coming and expect the worst, you will not be prepared for what goes on. I always thought the hands-over-the-eyes move was an affected one. Now I know it can be an uncontrollable impulse.

Cohen is doubly blessed as a wit and as a fearless physical comedian. He leans heavily on the latter in Borat's feature film debut. It's not necessarily a bad thing: If the film's ratio of laughs to minutes was any higher, the audience would have trouble breathing.

Actually the dumb-downed Borat's success in America and everywhere else does suggest something surprising: If properly marketed, a remake of The Three Stooges could also strike world-wide box-office gold.

If properly made, it could be pretty darn funny too.

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