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Borat not so nice

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, November 8, 2006

At its best, humor is offensive, off-putting and even a little subversive. “Borat: Culture Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” manages to be all of the above, but manages to forget that humor is actually supposed to be funny. Instead, “Borat” is a plodding mishmash of good ideas, bad ideas and everything in between, stretched out over a running time that feels longer than its 84 minutes.

The biggest problem with “Borat” is that it’s not very funny, but it thinks it is. This is a film that had everything going for it, but it fails to capitalize on its premise, and, while there are several clever moments, too much of the film consists of a lot of poo and sex jokes, which haven’t gotten any fresher or funnier since … well, ever. The subplot concerning Pamela Anderson is merely distracting, and “Borat” seems to have trouble extending into feature length. As a section of “Da Ali G Show,” Borat’s shtick worked, mostly because it was skit-oriented and came in a brief, punchy little segment.

Accordingly, the best parts of the feature film are those that feel like parts of a skit, without any emphasis on plot. Borat is effortlessly played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and his performance is easily the best part of the picture. He imbues the Kazakhstani reporter with an effervescent innocence, that is at times both charming and ingratiating – these qualities make Borat’s constant un-PC behavior more bearable, but the film has an annoyingly winking attitude that nullifies some of Cohen’s best efforts.

Here’s the strangest thing about “Borat” – though it purports to satirize juvenile humor, that same parodic nature means that it depicts juvenile humor, and becomes what it tries to satirize. As with “Fight Club,” it’s easy to think that people just won’t get the irony. Those who imitate Borat and his bubbly racism and sexism are clearly missing the joke, and while it’s easy for critics (and Cohen) to contend that audiences aren’t dumb enough to miss the obvious, remind them about all the fight clubs that sprung up back in 1999.

Audiences laughed throughout “Borat,” but too much of it was that kind of uncomfortable laughter, like watching a drunk fratboy in a room full of sober people – we chuckle, not because it’s funny, but because he thinks he’s funny. It’s unfortunate, because the film had such promise, yet it manages to stumble through its running time, even becoming boring at times, which is the ultimate crime in a comedy.

Sacha Baron Cohen is undeniably a talented and interesting person, and he single-handedly carries “Borat,” but his effort isn’t enough to save the movie. Critical consensus has been very high on the film, which currently carries a 95 on the web site rottentomatoes.com.

In a day and age in which we are supposed to be enlightened, a film like “Borat,” which takes broad jabs at issues of race, religion and culture, seems antiquated and obvious.

While audiences fawn over the raunchy humor of “Borat,” the real joke is that the film has been better received critically than “The Departed” – once again, Martin Scorsese gets outdone, but who would have thought it would be by a man who wrestles naked in the climax of his film?