Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Mixed reviews for Sacha Baron Cohen sequel

Image source, Amazon Studios
Image caption,
Sacha Baron Cohen is returning as Borat 14 years after the original film

The sequel to Sacha Baron Cohen's hugely successful 2006 comedy Borat has received mixed reviews from critics.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is released on Friday.

The film was shot in secret, largely during the pandemic, and sees Borat playing more pranks on US citizens.

Justin Chang of the LA Times described the sequel as "fitfully funny and sometimes weirdly poignant".

But he added: "With a few exceptions, Borat's satirical jabs don't land with quite the same cringe-making force this time; the setups are too convoluted, the anonymous targets too genial, the payoffs too meagre."

'The shock has gone'

The film opens with Borat in prison, nearing the end of his sentence for having brought shame on his country with his first film.

However, once released, he returns to America - this time with the intention of offering his daughter Tutar (played by Maria Bakalova) as a gift to Vice President Mike Pence.

Along the way, Borat meets and plays pranks on several US politicians and members of the public, many of whom are supporters of President Trump.

Variety's Peter Debruge said the sequel was a welcome return to form for Baron Cohen, who has starred in Bruno, The Dictator and Grimsby since 2006.

"Frankly, nothing the comedic actor has done since Borat has had quite the same impact, so it's a relief that the Subsequent Moviefilm is no dashed-off affair, but a parody on par with the original," he said.

"Borat has lost none of his bite, treading that same fine line between sophomoric humour and pointed political satire."

Image source, Amazon Studios
Image caption,
Borat returns to the US in the sequel to play more pranks on US politicians and members of the public

The film was awarded four stars by Empire's John Nugent, who noted that the sequel's central premise doesn't stray far from the original.

"Many of the first film's tricks are simply repeated or repurposed," he said. "As before, Cohen delights in exposing the casual bigotry of average Americans.

"It's remarkable how much the film packs in, and how it manages to spin plates between ridiculous crudeness, pulse-quickening shock tactics, and pointed political commentary. Cohen's total fearlessness as a performer is still really something to behold."

However, The Telegraph's Robbie Collin was less impressed, awarding the film just two stars.

"For the most part, it's despairingly threadbare stuff," he wrote. "A string of half-formed, recycled and disjointed pranks you suspect wouldn't have survived the quality-control process on the original, effortfully connected post hoc by largely uninspired scripted scenes.

"The central pillar of Borat's act - interviews with unsuspecting strangers - is hugely impeded by the lockdown conditions under which much of Subsequent Moviefilm was shot, which surely goes at least some way towards explaining the agonising lack of strong material."

In his three-star review, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw said: "The shock of the new is gone, and so the shock generally... but there are still some real laughs and pointed political moments.

"Borat is now encountering America in the age of Donald Trump, of course, and some of the film's best moments come when it is exposing complacency and credulity on the subject of Covid-19."

Bradshaw and several other critics pointed out how much more challenging it was for Baron Cohen to film the sequel now Borat is so recognisable.

Image source, JAMES GILLHAM
Image caption,
A giant Borat was seen floating down the River Thames in London on Thursday to promote the film

Subsequent Moviefilm instead finds creative ways to play pranks on unsuspecting members of the public, without Baron Cohen being detected.

"To get around the fact that everyone now recognises Borat, the idea is that he will mostly be in disguise and a lot of the pranks are effectively carried out by Tutar," Bradshaw explains.

Devika Girish of The New York Times added: "The problems with the sequel start right at the beginning. Borat is too recognisable in the US now, so to pull off the same pranks, he has to disguise himself heavily.

"There's nothing in this moviefilm that matches the elegant social experiment of the first, which sought to explore where precisely American civility departs from morality."

Some critics noted there are still moments of basic visual gags and toilet humour. "The sequel is somehow both lighter and darker in tone than its predecessor - which suits the current mood, perhaps," suggested The Independent's Clarisse Loughrey.

"Moments of pure slapstick come as a relief. There's a simple but utterly hysterical sequence of him trying to cut a man's hair with a giant pair of rusted sheep shears."

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is going straight to streaming, and will be released by Amazon on Friday.

In his LA Times review, Chang said: "It may be that this movie, like its uproarious predecessor, cries out to be seen in a crowded theatre - rather than, say, a depopulated living room - for maximum impact."

Much of the attention surrounding the film has focused on the high-profile targets Borat and Tutar attempt to ambush.

Image source, Reuters
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Rudy Giuliani has denied being inappropriate during filming

At one point, President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is interviewed by Tutar in a hotel room about the administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

She then invites Mr Giuliani, 76, to join her for a drink. After his microphone is taken off, he lies down on the bed and appears to be putting his hands inside his trousers.

However, Mr Giuliani has since explained: "The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment.

"At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar."

The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFoe said the encounter with Mr Giuliani does appear to have been presented in a misleading way.

"The shaping of the sequence and its music, in service to the film's overall plot, suggest the disgraced former mayor is trying to seduce a young woman who interviews him. But it looks like some microphone-fitting footage is being repurposed here," he said.

Speaking about the film more widely, DeFoe said it "falls short of its imperfect but zeitgeist-grabbing 2006 predecessor in several ways".

"The easiest (but incomplete) answer is that the George W Bush era needed a Borat, and the Trump years make him painfully redundant."

Subsequent Moviefilm is not the only film starring Baron Cohen to be released this month.

The actor has been widely praised for his performance in Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was released on Netflix last week.

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