With positive word of mouth building on movie Web sites and hype reverberating down from the Toronto Film Festival in regard to his new movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the impact of Internet hyperbole can either shoot this comedy into the stratosphere or cause the film to fizzle, as was the case with this summer's previous Internet fad, Snakes on a Plane.,Sacha Baron Cohen's transformation into a cultural phenomenon is almost as fascinating as his ability to totally immerse himself into one of his zany characters.
With positive word of mouth building on movie Web sites and hype reverberating down from the Toronto Film Festival in regard to his new movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the impact of Internet hyperbole can either shoot this comedy into the stratosphere or cause the film to fizzle, as was the case with this summer's previous Internet fad, Snakes on a Plane.
But unlike Snakes, Borat crackles with an energy and aplomb that actually transcends the hype and leaves the film unquestionably the best comedy of the year.
Cohen plays Borat Sagdiyev, a fictitious Kazakhstani journalist coming to America to enlighten his native country on our ways.
Kazakhstan is portrayed by Cohen and director Larry Charles as a backward nation prone to anti-Semitism, incest and bestiality (as evidenced in one hilarious scene with Borat and the town rapist that is sure to win brownie points with the actual Kazak government, which is already queasy at the prospect of this movie defining their country).
Borat arrives in America with his morbidly obese producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) and greets New York City with his trademark na've friendliness. Predictably, city dwellers aren't exactly receptive to this grinning foreigner. This scene would be one of the funniest series of events in any other movie, but in Borat, this only prepares the audience for the insanity that is to come, which is only more outrageous.
Upon seeing a rerun of "Baywatch," that classic of American syndicated TV, in his hotel room, Borat decides that he must make Pamela Anderson his wife, going to great lengths to find out where to locate her.
With a furious Azamat in tow, Borat embarks on a cross-country journey to find his televised love.
Shot in mockumentary style, the film displays Cohen's amazing ability to stay in character at all times. His foils-the American public-provide as much, if not more comedy than Borat himself. By asking questions about foul topics in an innocent, backward manner, Cohen disarms his subjects into revealing their own prejudices.
This is not to say that Borat isn't at the crux of the movies. Scenes shot at a yard sale and a small bed and breakfast in particular expose the characters own misperceptions about Jewish people and gypsies to hilarious effect. In these sequences, the audience discovers that in Borat's world, gypsies roam suburban yard sales and Jews possess magical shapeshifting abilities.
Borat is also notable for containing arguably the single funniest scene to grace a movie screen not only this year, but perhaps this decade. When Borat discovers he has been betrayed by Azamat (though Borat's definition of betrayal, as is typical to the character, is a bit off the mark), the two engage in a wrestling match that is a sight at once to behold, cringe from, and descend into hysterics due to. At this point, Davitian also provides what may be the first ever case of unintentional self-censorship due to the, uh, abnormalities of his girthsome physique.
Cohen, who originally found minor success in America with his HBO program Da Ali G Show (which featured Borat segments), gave the American public a bit of preparation for what was to come with his supporting role in this summer's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
In Borat, Cohen takes the same qualities of his flamboyant and disarming Taledega Nights character and uses them to define Borat in a situation when nobody else is in on the joke, nor knowingly mugging for the camera.
By selling himself as a comedic chameleon, Cohen has developed a unique comic method.
Other funnymen who are character actors still have an off-camera persona, and no matter how well they play a role, they can still be recognized for who they really are, no matter how much makeup and zany costuming is applied.
Cohen, by refusing to ever appear in a public setting as anything but Borat while promoting this movie, helps sell the illusion to an audience that may have even been following him since his days on Da Ali G Show.
Nobody knows who Sacha Baron Cohen really is. He is Borat. Borat is him.
And, if this movie catches on like all who have already seen it believe it will, like marketing executives at Fox believe it will, Borat could well be what defines him.