Look, my general rule around reviews is that any assessment of a work of art should assess said work on how effectively it accomplishes what it it is trying to accomplish, not whether it conforms to the reviewer’s preconceived notions of “good”. While most good works of art could be argued to share many aspects in common, delineating archetypal principles of aesthetics is not the role of a narrowly focused film review, and I will not attempt it here. All I can say is that, based on common standards of what constitutes good taste or effective satire or just general non-rubbish, Borat Subsequent Movie Film is bad. Really bad. As a sheltered 11 year-old at the time of the original film’s release, I did not see the first Borat, and have had no particular desire to do so since. As a child, the original film was, to me, largely a byword for R-rated crassness. Now 25 and not easily offended, Borat’s second outing has quite successfully filled me with both boredom and mild disgust. Try as he might at his noble goal of skewering the racism, antisemitism, misogyny, and general moral nihilism and thuggery of Trumpian America, Sacha Baron Cohen’s satire is a dud. In 2020, the willingness of Middle American Whites to espouse repugnant views or shrug and awkwardly laugh their way through (satirized) expressions of the most contemptible prejudice is not funny. Its simply pathetic and sad.
We begin with the funniest part of the film, after which its all downhill from there. Borat, consigned by Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev to hard labor for brining shame upon his motherland in the original film, is freed from prison and assigned a new task: ingratiate Nazarbayev and Kazakhstan with Trump, who has overlooked the nation in favor of paling around with more famous despots like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsanaro, and “Kenneth” [i.e. Yeezy] West. Meanwhile, Borat’s old collaborator Azamat has been turned into a leather chair, his dick sticking out of said chair ominously. Borat returns to his home village to find himself cuckolded and disowned by his sons, as well as in [somewhat literal] possession of a daughter, women being no more than chattel in this highly absurdist fictionalization of Kazakhstan.
I confess this is by far the funniest portion of the film. Some have criticized Baron Cohen for his portrayal of Kazakhstan as racist in the pass, but the “Kazakhstan” of the Boratverse is perhaps best seen as a criticism of American xenophobia, which has always been the main target of the franchise. In playing a stylized and extremely politically incorrect Turkic Central Asian, Baron Cohen is essentially skewering American ideas of what a “barbarous” foreigner looks, thinks, and sounds like, in the process revealing that this stereotype is simply an absurdist and Otherized reflection of the same values implicitly (or explicitly) espoused by many American rednecks. This is actually reinforced by the whitewashing of Kazakhs endemic to the Borat franchise, with many of the “Kazakhs” portrayed in the Boratstan of this universe played by Eastern European Whites rather than the distinctly Turkic population of real-world Kazakhstan, who are identifiable by their monolids and other Central and East Asian features. The “Kazakhstan” of Borat is not a satire of POC nor anything resembling a real place, but fundamentally a farcical representation of Eastern European Whites as conceived in the minds of Western European Whites and Americans. Even the “Kazakh” spoken by Borat is merely a bullshit conflation of Polish and Modern Hebrew (Baron Cohen is a British Ashkenazi Jew).
Assigned to deliver Kazakhstan’s national treasure (and acclaimed pornstar) Johnny the Monkey to VEEP Mike Pence (pronounced, hilariously, as “Michael [or sometimes Mikhail] Penis”), Borat’s mission is jeopardized when his daughter Tutar (played by Bulgarian Maria Balakova) stows away and eats Johnny. From thereon we get an extremely ridiculous series of scripted scenes, pranks, and something in between, in which Borat attempts to essentially sex traffic his daughter to prominent American politicians while Tutar gradually rebels against the rampant and idiotic misogyny of her father. It is a tale replete with gross-out gags, jokes about women as livestock in cages, Cohen/Borat infiltrating CPAC in a Trump mask, and other shenanigans.
A rare, moving scene occurs when, after Tutar has renounced her subservience to Borat, Borat, in desperation that Tutar has told him the Holocaust, the crowning accomplishment of “Kazakhstan” was not real, attends a synagogue in widely antisemitic garb to seek death at the hands of “the Jews”. Confronted by Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans, Borat is persuaded otherwise, and rejoices in the assurance that, yes, his country did indeed murder six million Jews and 11 milion others deemed “undesirable” to the Nazi regime (the real Kazakhstan was not invoked). Evan’s heirs, currently suing Baron Cohen, allege that this footage was used without her consent to insult Jewish culture, but Baron Cohen has countered that after he took the unprecedented step of breaking character to ensure Evans that he was a in fact a Jew filming the scene to satirize antisemitism, Evans gave her approval for use of the footage. The film is dedicated to her in its closing credits, and given Baron Cohen’s publicized support of the Anti-Defamation League, there is no reason to doubt his claims. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Defamation_League
Ultimately, despite its esteemable intentions, the film never rises above its fundamental flaw: Borat is funny, but Americans aren’t. While there is plenty of footage of White Americans responding insouciantly or approvingly to Borat’s atrocious statements of misogyny, racism, and so forth, these more often come across as the non-confrontational attempts of people in a professional setting to ignore the insane nonsense Borat is spouting. While we get some scenes where, for example, two men espouse Qanon views that the Democratic party created Coronavirus, this is not funny, revelatory, or even shocking in October 2020. As Trump’s poll numbers maintain a steady deficit and his desired October Surprise fails to materialize, People of Color, the disbaled, LGBT, liberal Whites, and basically anyone opposed to Neo-Nazism and its apologists must confront the sad reality that even should Trump’s reelection bid follow its current trajectory to a fiery death, the obscenity of the current Republican Party is going nowhere. The permanent degradation of America’s international alliances is going nowhere. The decline of our Great Power imperial leadership, and its supplantion by an even more cynical right wing populism and militant nationalism across the globe, is going nowhere. These are dangerous and contemptible times, and Borat Subsequent Movie Film, with its melange of sex crime, menstration, and incest jokes, offers nothing revelatory as to how we get out of this mess. It’s tasteless, perfunctory, and boring. Despite moments of occasional genius and manic humor, in the end,” there’s no there there”.