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Judge Bill Gibron • Location: Tampa, FL
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November 9th, 2006 6:31PM

Okay, let's get a few things straight right up front. This is NOT the funniest movie of 2006, not by a big, bad long shot. That award goes to Clerks II, with Kevin Smith's scripted genius acting as a far more astute commentary on our 'culture' than an improvising pigeon English shock comic. Hell, this isn't even the funniest mock documentary of recent years. That title would go to Lollilove, Jenna Fischer's brilliant dissection of celebrity denseness and misapplied charitable principles. There are more laughs in said film's first 15 minutes than in the entirety of Sacha Baron Cohen's one-trick pig and pony act. Anyone whose dared argue that, somehow, Borat is one of the wickedest satires ever foisted on the public in the past decade obviously didn't see the psychotically brilliant South Park film. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, noted for consistently delivering the comedy goods on their sensational TV cartoon classic, took nearly every genre of cinema to task in their twisted animated musical, and proved unquestionably that one could actually laugh until it hurt.

These statements are not meant to beat up on Borat or its creator, the obviously talented Cohen. But the truth about this film really does exist somewhere between the pre-release excitement and the actual execution. This is a very uneven motion picture, with long pauses in between the choice chuckles. The opening of the movie is wonderful, setting up the dreamlike world of the phony Kazakhstan that our main character supposedly lives in. Minor moments with the town rapist, the angry neighbor, and Borat's battleaxe of a wife linger longer than confrontational scenes between the character and obviously uncomfortable social stooges. Part of the humor Cohen taps into is that standard surprise material that Johnny Knoxville and his skater stunt rat pals have been milking for almost a decade. In fact, a great deal of Borat feels like Jackass with an agenda. Had those infamous foolhardy fellows created a narrative for their two big screen efforts in which they travel around America getting to know the real country, perhaps they'd be labeled as the next Peter Sellers, instead of knocked as a bunch of testosterone and liquor fueled losers.

And what of that constant comparison to Britain's late great method madman? It seems really naïve to argue for Cohen's place alongside one of the acknowledged greats of comedy when he can barely hold character throughout the film. His Borat changes constantly, altered to fit the mood of the situation and the tone of the response. This may work when comedy is involved, but as an actor, Cohen has a long ways to go to match Sellers in style, substance – and most importantly, subtlety. This is not to say that the movie is a bomb. In fact, it's one of 2006's most light-hearted and warm surprises. It's just not the greatest, most daring, or controversial film in the history of humor. At the time, Blazing Saddles, with its overt racism, was far more scandalous. Besides, Cohen's jokes are just recycled Woody Allen bits (Jews with horns) amplified by unnecessary repetition. Borat works when the material stays away from the dopey (the singing of the mash up US/supposed Kazakhstan national anthem) or the dumbfounding (two grown men wrestling naked is not cutting edge, it's merely scatological slapstick). A scene revolving around a "p**sy magnet" is much funnier than any trip to a Christian revivalist meeting.

As a matter of fact, Borat suffers from some of the same problems that face most motion picture comedies today. Wit is never applicable universally – someone's joke is another man's misery. There will be those who immediately take to what Cohen is doing and declare it to be the revolutionary work that current critical support suggests. On the other hand, there will be those (myself included) who don't simply buy everything in the film and cast a jaundiced eye on many of the movies more infamous moments. Could Cohen really tackle Pamela Anderson like he does without working up something "in advance" with the former Baywatch beauty? Did the high society dinner party people really call the police after their foreign guest tried to give the hostess his bowel movement in a bag? Why did the driving instructor seem so hip and into his sequence while the Atlanta hotel seemed absolutely stunned that someone like Borat would want to check in? Its part and parcel for a film that's overall dichotomy suggests the reasons for its success as well as the issues that keep it so insular. While I know I will probably need a crate of gypsy tears to protect me from the blogger backlash in the making, I stand by my convictions. Borat is a decent film. It is not, however, the shape of things to come…I hope.

6.5 out of 10

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