- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

Director of picture movies from U.S. and A. would be wise make copy Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat.” The comic’s new film isn’t simply funnier than all the hype leading to its arrival. “Borat” touches every comedy genre, from basic verbal gags to slapstick, improvisation and vulgar sketch comedy alike.

In Borat, star and creator Sacha Baron Cohen has a perfect vehicle to explore, and exploit, our culture’s soft spots while making the easily offended laugh too hard to raise a ruckus.

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” follows the Kazakh journalist as he travels from his home turf to the U.S. to learn just what makes this country great.

Or something like that. “Borat” is a road movie fused with a fish-out-of-water tale, but it’s far more than the sum of its boilerplate parts.

And Mr. Cohen is more than just a comedy chameleon. The British actor, first known stateside for faux rapper Ali G, submerges himself so deeply in character it’s a wonder he can find his way out.

“Borat” is filmed partially like a reality show. Mr. Cohen, in Borat’s trademark suit, asks interview subjects enough questions to let them expose their own prejudices. Anyone who has seen Mr. Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show” on HBO knows the drill, but the bits work well when inserted into a narrative framework.

While Mr. Cohen and three others are credited with the screenplay, we’re told there’s no true script in the traditional sense. Cynics will examine where the improv starts and the staging ends, but the film — unlike many TV reality shows — never touts itself as pure nonfiction.

The story’s through-line is Borat’s instant love affair with Pamela Anderson of “Baywatch” fame. While at first Borat and his hirsute producer plan to stay in the Big Apple, Borat’s infatuation with Miss Anderson inspires him to ride cross-country in a vintage ice cream van to meet, and marry, his beloved.

Along the way, Borat runs afoul of a Virginia rodeo, drinks too much with some college students and has a falling out with his producer. The latter is a sequence unlike any other. Alternately repulsive and hilarious, it’s an emotional tug of war meant solely for adults but will leave them laughing like 6-year-olds.

Mr. Cohen displays Borat’s Kazakhstan as a land of empty, a backward, barren space filled with anti-Semitic creeps. While the portrayal is clumsy, his critiques of our own latent prejudices can be subtle yet unsparing. It’s rare a comedy that can make us laugh so hard yet leave us with so much to ponder.

And what a teacher we have in Borat.

The seemingly innocent Kazakh makes Archie Bunker look downright inclusive. In one raw sequence, Borat and his producer believe the Jewish couple running a bed and breakfast where they’re staying have shape-shifted into cockroaches, at which they fling money to keep them at bay.

That we’re still on Borat’s side after such an offensive display says it all about not just Borat, but Mr. Cohen.

The comic stands tall in every way a humorist should. His work illuminates while it makes us buckle with laughter. His comic timing is priceless, whether it’s doing a double take during an interview with feminists or watching him tumble out of a trailer used by drunken frat boys.

His verbal acumen is equally adept. Borat speaks in a riotous mash-up of English and his character’s native tongue. We’re betting any number of catchphrases emerge from the dust.

“Borat” is a subversive hoot, a reality-tinged romp demanding not just repeated viewings but an extended conversation.

****

TITLE: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”

RATING: R (Nudity, adult language, disturbing imagery and gross-out humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Larry Charles. Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer.

RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes

WEB SITE: www.boratmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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