In the 2006 film “Borat,” an American humor coach explains the idea of a “not” joke to Borat Sagdiyev, the disarmingly moronic Kazakh journalist performed by Sacha Baron Cohen. “We make a statement that we pretend is true, but at the end, we say, ‘not,’” the coach explains. But Borat struggles to understand the pause required to make the joke work. First he pauses for too lengthy earlier than “not”; then, too briefly. The joke falls flat.
Baron Cohen’s postmodern comedy hinges on that pause. Traveling via America as a bigotry-spewing buffoon, he confronts folks with a sequence of “not” jokes posed as moral litmus checks. He’s an anti-Semite … not. He’s a misogynist … not. He’s an ignorant foreigner … not. If you may detect the pause, you’re the viewers for the joke; in case you can’t, you’re its butt.
In the long-awaited sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (streaming on Amazon beginning Oct. 23), Baron Cohen and the director Jason Woliner convey that guerrilla idea again into a wierd new world. Borat emerges as if from a time capsule: All these years, the movie’s nudgy-winky opening montage tells us, he’s been serving time for embarrassing Kazakhstan along with his prior exploits. But now, he’s being dispatched to America once more to curry favor with President “McDonald” Trump. In an impressed (and ludicrously contrived) flip, he has a brand new accomplice in his madcap mockumentary: his 15-year-old daughter, Tutar (performed by Maria Bakalova), whom he plans to reward to “Vice Premier” Mike Pence as a gesture of fine will.
It’s an amusingly harebrained scheme, however there’s nothing on this moviefilm that matches the elegant social experiment of the primary, which sought to discover the place exactly American civility departs from morality. The issues with the sequel begin proper initially. Borat is simply too recognizable within the U.S. now, so to drag off the identical pranks, he has to disguise himself closely, as Baron Cohen did on his 2018 TV show, “Who Is America?”
These often ridiculous costumes (including a memorable one at a conservative conference) undercut the film’s promise of revelation — one that already feels compromised by the age of media manipulation and disinformation that we live in. The test is no longer of civility, but of gullibility. In one extended gag, Borat spends some days living with followers of QAnon, who scoff at his outrageous fabrications, but respond with their own conspiracies about bloodlusty, Satan-worshiping cults. Unlike the curiosity that seemed to motivate Baron Cohen in the previous film, here the goal appears to be to goad people to confirm what we already know.
What does add some novelty is Bakalova’s presence, which offers a change of pace from Borat’s usual litany of phallic humor. Tutar starts out as a feral, sheltered teen who’s taught that women will die if they work or drive or masturbate; slowly, she’s exposed to a double-sided experience of American womanhood, first at clothing shops and salons, then at an anti-abortion center and a plastic surgery clinic. In these encounters, Bakalova matches Baron Cohen in committing to the part with not a trace of self-consciousness, capturing a disturbing range of sexist attitudes that build into the film’s finale — possibly its only politically hefty moment, involving President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Baron Cohen said in a Times interview that he wanted to put out the film before the election as “a reminder to women of who they’re voting for — or who they’re not voting for.” But at a time when those in power brazenly flaunt their misogyny, this faith in the persuasive effects of public shaming strikes me as misplaced. The elaborate ruses of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” left me neither entertained nor enraged, but simply resigned.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Rated R for raw language, nudity and general filthiness. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Watch on Amazon.