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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 10:52 GMT
Press views: Borat's movie debut
The character is played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen's spoof Kazakhstan reporter, Borat, makes his film debut this weekend.

The film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, follows the character on a trip across the US.

Along the way, Borat's cultural insensitivity causes outrage amongst his unsuspecting American targets, but what do critics make of the movie?


You will laugh at Borat, you really will, but the laughter will sometimes stick in your throat.

This is partially intentional - Borat's fiendish brand of subversive social commentary comes with an iron-clad shock-and-offend guarantee - but partially not.

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.

But because Sacha Baron Cohen is intentionally provocative, willing to mock whoever crosses his path, he ends up baiting the harmless and playing ordinary people for fools.

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.


Scene from the Borat movie
The film opens in Kazakhstan, although it was filmed in Romania
If you were ever partial to a bit of Ali G, you can be forgiven any trepidation you may feel towards Sacha Baron Cohen's latest small-to-big-screen translation.

Ali G was an amusing enough creation, but what made him work satirically was seeing him interact with real people.

So when Cohen took him out of that context and placed him in his own fictional world, the result wasn't quite the comedy riot it could have been.

With the Borat movie, Cohen has learned his lesson.

This isn't just a few smirks and chuckles. Instead, it's rib-crackingly, face-hurtingly, endorphin-flushingly hilarious.

Empire laughed so hard we had a full-blown asthma attack. They should slap a health warning on this movie.


Why does everyone love Borat? He only has to show up and he's all over the newspapers. In Cannes wearing a green thong, in Toronto on a horse and cart and in Los Angeles in a clapped-out car.

The last film star so easily and consistently to manipulate the press was Liz Hurley after she appeared in that dress at the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

She wasn't even a film star. Neither is Borat.

Sacha Baron Cohen's comic Kazakhstani was a giggle on television, though not nearly as brilliantly satirical as his Ali G persona.

Ali G worked best when celebrities made fools of themselves - when Borat picks on shopkeepers... is he not just bullying humour out of his victims' situation?

We're one step up from Jeremy Beadle here. Or even a step down.


Designed to offend African Americans, Asians, Jews, gays, politicians, rednecks, women and more Jews, it's gob-smackingly offensive. And it's already legendary.

From the opening scenes which show us Borat's run-down village in Kazakhstan, to his trip across the Atlantic with his obese producer Azamat... the movie rarely fails to be anything less than spectacularly hysterical.

Along the way, he takes a major swipe at the US in every scene and it's astonishing he manages to come out alive.

His initial attempts to make friends in a subway train are met with hostility bordering on physical aggression.

The film's slim running time (not usually a great sign) is also one of its strengths - it's hard to laugh non-stop for ninety minutes.

With regular Curb Your Enthusiasm director Larry Charles at the helm, it's not only a masterpiece of character comedy but of comic timing.


A scene from the Borat film
Borat travels from New York to California in the course of the film
That Mr. Baron Cohen plays the character's anti-Semitism for laughs is his most radical gambit.

The Anti-Defamation League, for one, has chided him, warning that some people may not be in on the joke.

And a sampling of comments on blogs... indicates that the Anti-Defamation League is at least partly right - some people are definitely not in on the joke, though only because some people are too stupid and too racist to understand that the joke is on them.

"If the comic can berate and finally blow the bully out of the water," [Jerry] Lewis once wrote, "he has hitched himself to an identifiable human purpose".

Sacha Baron Cohen doesn't blow bullies out of the water - he obliterates them.


Larry Charles's big-screen account of Borat's cock-eyed adventures is a squirming joy and a film to cherish.

In 81 hysterical minutes Borat destroys the myth of an open-minded society. There are wild cheers at a Texas rodeo when he shouts: "George Bush drinks the blood of every man, woman, and child".

Baron Cohen is so reckless and relaxed in the role that you fear for his safety.

The best moments of Borat are improvised and impulsive - such as the New York street scenes - but it's the satire that really stings.

Ultimately, though, the film runs out of steam as the sketches start to fall flat and the spark of the first half begins to dim.

'Sick man' Borat divides Kazakhs
26 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
Borat bandwagon rolls into town
25 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
How Borat hoaxed America
23 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
Kazakh invite for Borat creator
19 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
Kazakhs 'see funny side of Borat'
29 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
Kazakhs shut Ali G star's website
14 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
Kazakh 'challenge' to Ali G star
14 Nov 05 |  Entertainment

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