Sacha Baron Cohen has come a long way since he was introduced to us as Ali G in 1998.
He used his trademark interviews under a number of alter egos to reveal the stupidity and hypocrisy of the rich, famous and powerful.
More recently, he has also made the transition to more serious drama. He’s played anti-war activist Abbie Hoffman in the fantastic film The Trial of the Chicago 7, but also an Israeli spy, Eli Cohen.
So Borat—Subsequent Moviefilm is a return to Cohen’s comedy roots.
It caused a political storm in the United States.
Controversy centred on a sequence in which Maria Bakalova, Cohen’s co-star, interviews former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in a hotel room.
Bakalova plays Borat’s 15 year old daughter, who is also a right wing television reporter that admires close allies of Donald Trump such the 76 year old Giuliani.
Assuming she is a real journalist, Giuliani fawns over Bakalova and strokes her arms before they retire to the bedroom to drink whiskey together.
Giuliani then lays on the bed and reaches down his trousers.
Whatever is about to happen is cut short when Cohen unexpectedly jumps out of a wardrobe. But the damage to Giuliani has already been done.
It is a compromising piece of footage for a politician who has campaigned for “family values” for much of his career.
“That scene” has won the film huge acclaim from the liberal media in the US. It praises how the film exposes both the bigotry and silliness of Trump’s most hardline supporters.
In another scene, Cohen poses as a country singer at a demonstration against public health measures.
He manages to induce the assembled gun-toting Trump supporters into a singalong about the “Wuhan Flu”.
They join in with lyrics about “chopping up journalists like the Saudis do”. Cohen has nerves of steel, and his expertise as a prankster is put to good use making fun of the right wing in US society.
Yet no matter how many out and out far right racists he exposes, Cohen’s performance leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Ultimately, much of the humour here is based on Borat fulfilling a racist stereotype.
It’s that of an Asian man from a Muslim country who is antisemitic, misogynistic and does not understand the modern world.
Subsequent Moviefilm ends up saying as much about the blind spot that liberalism has for its own Islamophobia as it does about the racism of the right.