Watching the original Borat 14 years after its 2006 release throws its strengths and weaknesses into stark relief. The catchphrases are tired to the point of mundanity and a lot of the hijinks are simply not funny in retrospect. On the other hand, the satire still bites, and the best scenes are still horrifying and enthralling. When Borat mastermind Sacha Baron Cohen successfully lulls his real-life subjects into believing they're speaking to a foreign simpleton whose documentary will never be seen outside Kazakhstan, the things that come out of their mouths are truly abhorrent--and that's the character's real genius.
All these years later, Cohen has surprised us all with a hastily announced and released sequel, and thankfully, Borat 2 leans into that genius while leaving the original's most problematic material (such as the many, many rape jokes) behind. And it definitely lives up to its full title, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
The sequel starts with Borat serving hard labor for his failure after the original movie made Kazakhstan an international laughingstock. But Borat is sent to America for one last mission: He's to deliver a famous monkey (the country's most popular porn star) to Vice President Mike Pence to earn Kazakhstan's leader the respect of "McDonald Trump," who is known to only pal around with "strong leaders" like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. Borat returns to his home village one last time to say goodbye to his family, and learns that he has a daughter--who lives chained up in a shed, obviously--named Tutar. When Borat departs, Tutar stows away in the monkey's shipping crate, and Borat is forced to come up with a new plan to win over the American government.
Sure, that's slightly more plot than the original, which can be summed up as "Borat diverts his documentary production to travel to California and kidnap Pamela Anderson." But it's still just setup for the ridiculously uncomfortable and revealing interactions the characters have with a revolving door cast of suckers and saps, some of whom are well-meaning enough, while others are just plain nasty. This sequel is aware of how well we already know the character, and Borat 2 doesn't try to establish any new catchphrases, while also not leaning too hard on the originals. There are a few "my wife" and "naahht" jokes, but they feel natural enough. It also skips the more vague public hijinks, including streaking through hotels, pretending to s*** in public, and loosing chickens on innocent subway passengers--all for the sequel's better. This time, the most delightful running joke is Cohen's increasingly absurd series of disguises, donned for very practical reasons, as even a decade and a half later, Borat is too recognizable to get away with his old schtick wholesale.
Beyond that, Borat 2 is a more focused film overall. According to a Salon article published after the original's release in 2006, Linda Stein, one of the feminists who Borat "interviewed" at the time, thought Cohen "didn't make the point with sexism that perhaps he did with anti-Semitism and homophobia." She got that it was satire--as did many of Cohen's other subjects. She just didn't think it did a particularly good job. I can't help but think that Cohen may have had Stein in mind when making this one; besides the obvious political subjects, Borat 2 focuses mainly on the character's many strange beliefs about women.
That's where Tutar comes in, and Maria Bakalova, the actress who plays her, often steals the show. Raised in Borat's fictional version of Kazakhstan, Tutar believes women will die in horrible ways if they own a business, drive a car, touch their own "vajeens," or ask too many questions. She and Borat visit a plastic surgeon, a religious anti-abortion counselor, a "sugar baby" Instagram influencer, and several other dubious figures, along the way learning that some of their preconceived notions about women might be slightly misguided.
Borat 2 works in large part because Bakalova is so fantastic. She easily keeps pace with Cohen and rarely misses a beat as the tension and chaos ramp up, such as during a southern debutante ball, when Cohen, in one of his many Americanized disguises, presents Tutar to what passes for "high society" in the region. The duo wow the black-tie crowd with their country's signature "fertility dance," which involves Tutar lifting her dress and flashing blood-soaked underwear in one of the movie's most uncomfortable sequences.
That scene and others like it go on slightly too long, as does the movie as a whole. The most compelling scene from the trailer happens about half an hour into the movie: Cohen, as Borat dressed in a grotesque Trump costume, fireman-carries Tutar over his shoulder and roadie-runs through the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to interrupt Mike Pence's speech and deliver him his Kazakhstani bride (an incident that, incredibly, really happened back in February, and no, nobody at the time knew that it was Borat). That and many other scenes will have you frantically Googling as you try to suss out what's staged and what's genuine--part of the original's magic that the sequel fully recaptures.
Still, with another hour to go after that point, Borat 2 quickly starts to feel too long, and it occasionally loses its way in tangents and sidetracks. That said, by the end, it does the seemingly impossible and tops the CPAC stunt with a scene that will make you wonder how Rudy Giuliani could have possibly allowed this to happen--although it's really not that surprising when you think about it.
Unsurprisingly, Borat 2 is an absurdly timely movie, taking the piss out of Trump and his cohorts, as well as various other conservative figures with objectively ridiculous beliefs; "[The Clintons] torture these kids, it gets their adrenaline flowing in their body, then they take that out of their adrenal glands, and then they drink their blood," a pair of men who inexplicably invited Borat to take shelter in their home during the pandemic tell Cohen, nodding sagely, without a shred of humor or irony. But what is surprising is the fact that Borat 2 is pretty damn funny. If you liked the original Borat when it became a phenomenon almost 15 years ago, but are pretty sure it wouldn't hold up to modern standards of political correctness and general decency--and rightly so--you might be pleasantly surprised by Borat 2's timeliness, focus, and more wholesome sensibilities.
Plus, you have to see that Giuliani scene to believe it.
Borat 2 will be available to stream on Amazon Prime starting October 23.