My friend Elvis, who is from Ireland, introduced me to Ali G, or Sasha Baron Cohen, back when he was only on the BBC. I was immediatly addicted, both to downloading episodes from Usenet and, later, renting the few DVDs that would trickle into our local store. I was glad for him to get his own HBO series. Though I've only seen a few of the HBO episodes, they've been howlingly funny.
So I've been looking forward to the Borat movie for a long time. (Actually, I was a little discouraged by it at first, when I was under the mistaken impression that it was plotted.) But I've wondered how America at large will take to Borat. Borat is filthy. A disgusting and repulsive human being--yet you can't help but love him for his awkward grin and seeming good intentions.
But still. Good intentions or not, it's bound to be an extremely, extremely discomforting piece of work. And although it remains to be seen how American audiences will react, American critics are absolutely ga-ga:
That scene may inspire accusations that Mr. Baron Cohen is simply trading on cultural and regional stereotypes, and he is, just not simply. The brilliance of “Borat” is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy. Mr. Baron Cohen isn’t yet a total filmmaker like Jerry Lewis (the film was directed by Larry Charles, who has given it a suitably cheap video look), but the comic’s energy and timing inform every scene of “Borat,” which he wrote with Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and his longtime writing and production partner, Dan Mazer. These guys push political buttons, but they also clear room for two hairy men to wrestle nude in a gaspingly raw interlude of physical slapstick that nearly blasts a hole in the film.
"Borat," or to give it its full title, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," is the brainchild of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, a performer who is touched by a kind of genius so savage it makes you consider both the very nature of comedy and what makes us laugh.San Francisco Chronicle:
We don't laugh at all of this, but we laugh at more of it than would seem possible, even if our laughter makes us uncomfortable enough to wonder why. For one of the unexpected things that seeing "Borat" underlines is that we don't laugh only because something strikes us as amusing. We laugh out of astonishment and disbelief, out of embarrassment for what the people on screen are going through, and because we simply can't figure out any other way to respond. "Borat" takes advantage of all these, and more.
We also laugh at situations that don't sound funny on the page because of Cohen's powerful comic presence. This is a very smart guy with the likability all comedians have to have, and he is very deft at what he does.
With his corrosive brand of take-no-prisoners humor that scalds on contact, Cohen is the most intentionally provocative comedian since Lenny Bruce and early Richard Pryor, with a difference. For unlike those predecessors, there is a mean-spiritedness, an every-man-for-himself coldness about his humor. The one kind of laughter you won't find in "Borat" is that which acknowledges shared humanity. Instead, there is that pitiless staple of reality TV, watching others humiliate themselves for our viewing pleasure.
The first thing that must be said about "Borat" is that it's screamingly, hysterically, laugh-through-the-next-joke, laugh-for-the-next-week funny. It's so inventive, so rich with comic moments, so outrageous, so shocking and unexpected, and so blithely willing to be offensive that it consistently leaves viewers off balance -- and howling. This is a film by an original and significant comic intelligence.
Borat is ostensibly on a journey to find the real America, and ironically, Cohen ends up doing just that. It's the something extra that makes "Borat" more than just a laugh machine: The picture takes the country's temperature at a rather fraught period in our national life.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is shockingly hilarious satire that knows no bounds. It is not hampered by concern for taste or convention, which is what makes Borat creator and star Sacha Baron Cohen the most fearless comedian around.
Some will no doubt be disgusted by over-the-top cringe-inducing segments: an extended nude chase and wrestling scene between Cohen and co-star Ken Davitian is unlike anything seen in mainstream movies. But in an era of stale, formulaic comedies, this uproarious and ribald faux documentary is like a hit of pure oxygen.
Cohen, already a star in his native England for his Da Ali G Show, expands his bumbling, inappropriate Kazakh character (one of three on the TV show) for the big screen. Converting a recurring comic sketch into a full-fledged film can be dicey. (Remember Coneheads?) But Cohen's genius lies in his ease with provocative material. What ends up on the screen feels almost revolutionary, even subversive, in its weird audacity.