Someday someone will write a doctoral dissertation on the
phenomenon of turning television sitcoms and characters from sketch
shows into feature film comedies. Hollywood has turned into a land
where there is dearth of originality and where a studio executive will
greenlight a movie with the slimmest of premises. So audiences have
been subjected to an endless parade of generally awful movies based
on old television shows (
BEWITCHED, THE HONEYMOONERS) and
full-length versions of skits that work intermittently in say, five or ten
minute length, but stretched to more than 70 minutes become tiresome
(
CONHEADS, SUPERSTAR, A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY, etc.)

      So now comes
BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR
MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN,
which transports
a character created by Sacha Baron Cohen for British television and
plunks him down in a mock-documentary. I wish I could say that the
result is uproarious and consistently entertaining, but like many of the
above mentioned movies,
BORAT is fitfully amusing. Baron Cohen and
his cohorts (including director Larry Charles, who cut his comic teeth
writing sitcoms like
SEINFELD, MAD ABOUT YOU and the current HBO
hit
ENTOURAGE) have set out to create both high and low brow
situations that push the envelope of decency and taste. Sometimes,
they do succeed. Some situations are hilarious and I found myself
laughing along with the movie. Then, there are the jokes that are meant
to make you chuckle but also to make you think (e.g., a sequence like
the "running of the Jew" in Borat's homeland that is a satire of the
annual event in Pamplona mixed with a sight gag). And then there are
the scenes that cross a line -- such as when Borat and his plus-sized
producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) get into a nude wrestling match.
Initially that scene works as a sight gag, but then it is milked to the hilt
and goes on for far too long, diminishing the intended results.

      Much has been made about how Baron Cohen remained in character
all through the shoot and he has publicized the film in guise of Borat as
well. Again, though, for my tastes the character is beginning to wear out
its welcome and not just because I've read about the movie in magazines,
and watched Baron Cohen make appearances on
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
and the TODAY show. It's that he's basically doing the same jokes --
most of which are in the film -- in these interviews and TV spots. For my
tastes, a little of Borat goes a long way -- a
VERY long way.

      For the one or two who don't know, Borat is supposed to be the most
popular man on Kazhakstani television. (Indeed, he may be the ONLY man
on Kazhakstani television.) He and his hapless producer Azamat are
commissioned to travel to the United States to make a documentary.
Opening in his hometown, we meet members of Borat's family and his
neighbors. Once in Manhattan, he meets with some unsuspecting people
for what turn out to be amusing culture clashes (like meeting with three
feminists). One evening while watching television, he stumbles on an
episode of
BAYWATCH and becomes transfixed with a certain cast
members. (No, not David Hasselhoff!) Determined to meet his dream girl,
Borat convinces his producer they have to travel to California. After
learning how to drive and purchasing a vehicle, they are on their way.


      Much of the humor of the film comes from culture clashes. There are
amusing bits where Borat slips in something so politically incorrect it is
funny. But what's even more jaw-dropping is the reaction of some of the
people. (There remains much debate over how much of the film has been
staged and how much is "real.") Watch Borat speak to a man at a Virginia
rodeo about killing homosexuals or see him try to purchase a gun or enjoy
his attendance at a fancy dinner party where toilet humor and a call girl
enliven the proceedings. The humor is hit or miss, sometimes striking its
target. But after the one-hour mark, I began to tire of the character
and his search for his dream girl.

      To my mind,
BORAT may have worked better on the small screen
and in smaller amounts. At only 82 minutes, the movie felt padded out and
it began to peter out as well. The climactic encounter with that blonde
actress IS somewhat amusing, but it doesn't really provide the capper to
the film that it means to be.

      I know that
BORAT is the kind of movie that is critic-proof. Whatever
anyone says about it, audiences will flock to it, and I'm sure that it will
make a gazillion dollars at the box office. It's sort of interesting to note,
though, that the Baron Cohen's initial foray into film in one of his television
personae,
ALI G INDAHOUSE was released direct to DVD here in America
despite airings of a TV show on HBO. Now, there are rumblings that he
will take a third character -- the flamboyantly gay fashionista Bruno --
to the big screen. Who knows? Maybe the third time will be the charm.

                      
Rating:                C
                      
MPAA Rating:        R for pervasive strong crude and                        
                                                           sexual content including graphic
                                                          nudity, and language
                      
Running time:       82 mins.

                      
                             Viewed at the AMC Empire 25
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for
Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.