Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is one of Kazakhstan's top broadcasters, and as a preamble to his latest project, he shows us around his home village and some of the people there, such as his family members, his grumpy neighbour, and the local characters, all of whom are very pleased to see him doing so well. Borat is a reporter on the Kazakh national news, but now he is going to spread his wings far further afield as he has been assigned to travel to the United States of America for a cultural overview, conducted by himself - what could possibly go wrong?
Back in the seventies, there was a British comic performer called Rod Hull who made his name with a puppet called Emu. His schtick would be that Rod was always trying to control Emu, but the bird would forever become unruly and frequently wrestle people to the ground, all for a laugh: the most famous instance of this was when they appeared on the Michael Parkinson chat show, where Emu attacked Parky with hilarious consequences, not that the host ever saw the funny side. Anyway, Rod calmed down a lot come the eighties, became a more family friendly children's entertainer and passed away after falling from his roof a few years later - many joked that Emu might have been responsible.
Which is all to say that Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat character owed a lot to Rod, as Borat was a one man, seventies heyday Rod Hull and Emu combined. He would approach innocent members of the public, some of whom enjoyed some standing in society, and effectively wrestle them to the ground, only not physically, but with his studied and idiotic verbal mayhem and dubious actions and props. For those who liked to look down on his targets, which in this film would appear to be less Kazakhstan than America, this was the funniest thing they had seen in years, but for those who were the object of his satire, maybe they didn't see the joke.
There is a story intertwined amongst the stunts, which might make you suspicious as to how much of this is staged and how much sprang from real life reactions, which is why Borat is so clever as it blurs the line between the two. So once the character reaches the States, we see him in meetings with feminists for some easy-to-offend ribbing, with a joke expert who is visibly uncomfortable, and with an etiquette expert who remains commendably goodnatured in the face of Borat's baiting of her. All this is pretty much what you would see Cohen's other character Ali G doing, but it's the stunts that he wants you to remember, and what got everyone talking.
Those actions are intended to have you analysing the national dispostion of America, and Cohen and his writers save their strongest ire for the rightwingers; underneath Borat's genial oblviousness there's a true anger that exhibits itself in a desire to bring down as many of his victims as possible, whether he's greeting every man he meets with a kiss (but not the women), smashing up antiques in a Texan store owner's shop, or goading a rodeo crowd into booing his ridiculous pronouncements. The impression is that every temper lost is a point to Cohen, but the odd thing is that there are very few who do grow furious, and many are keen to be as polite as possible, even those with the most objectionable views. So while there is intelligence at work, the film is hamstrung by its reclaiming of the targets the right would traditionally make fun of, with a brash tone that is ill-thought out. It does raise a few chuckles, but the gears of its machinations do show - and if anywhere needed a couple of streakers, it was that church meeting. Music by Erran Baron Cohen.
Love the Rod Hull comparison! This as succinct a summation of Cohen's dubious satire as one could hope for. Don't believe the hype, people. Cohen is just exploiting genuine 21st Century issues for his personal schtick.