Written by: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer
Feature-Length Documentary by Ali G Show Character Comic Gold
My god, I can’t remember the last time I saw a comedy in a movie theater where everyone was rolling in the aisles. I forgot what a great communal experience laughing along with total strangers is. You’ve pretty much had to check your brain at the door to enjoy any American comedy released in the last ten years (with the partial exception of The 40 Year Old Virgin–though I know I’ll catch some shit for that). Pretty much the only way to legitimately enjoy all the Scary Movie’s and School of Rock’s filling up our multiplexes is to somehow erase everything you’ve learned from a lifetime of watching good films for 90 minutes. For the first time in seemingly forever, someone has found a way to make a comedy that appeals to both eggheads and frat guys. And it was done by a Kazakhstanian named “Borat.”
I’m happy to report that after catching a sneak preview of a “work print” of Sacha Baron Cohen (the guy behind all the characters)’s full-length opus, Borat, all fears of a Run, Ronnie, Run debacle can be cast aside. Da Ali G Show has reached that revered cult status where basically every reasonably hip young person knows and loves it, yet the squares remain completely oblivious (thanks in large part to it residing on pay cable in the US). After two increasingly popular seasons, it’s high time for an Ali G movie spinoff. The Cohen and his team wisely took the shows strongest elements–the guerilla documentary technique (for this is a documentary, not a fictionalization a la the British-only release Ali G Indahouse) and the character Borat–and built a solid 90 minute “documentary” around it.
Borat follows the titular “reporter” for Kazakh TV–easily the funniest of Da Ali G Show’s stable of characters–as he takes a cross-country journey across the U.S. We even get to see Borat’s home village in Kazakhstan when he sets off. We get one new character in on the joke–Borat’s corpulent, non-English speaking producer (who’s presence in the film–comedically suspect at first–is revealed halfway through, when he and Borat get into a fight when Borat comes out of the shower and catches the producer masturbating on his hotel bed to Borat’s Baywatch fan magazine (don’t ask). The resulting five minutes feature the most extreme male nudity I’ve ever had “fortune” to witness, and I’d be shocked if at least part of this scene wasn’t trimmed down to get by the MPAA. Let’s just say that if you’ve never seen Borat being 69’d by an obese Slav, you’ve never lived). The rest of the cast are real people who apparently have never heard of Da Ali G Show.
The filmmakers (written by Cohen and his regular TV cronies, directed by Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm veteran director Larry Charles) find just the right through-lines and recurring gags to justify expanding a Borat segment to feature length. Da Ali G Show fans will recognize the typical places Borat finds himself–interviewing feminists, eating in Southern high society, on an RV full of frat guys, at a rodeo, at driving school, at a bed and breakfast run by an elderly Jewish couple, etc. The segments work just as well here as on the TV show, and the through-line (Borat’s traveling to LA to meet Pamela Anderson, whom he fell in love with watching a syndicated episode of Baywatch in his hotel room.) justifies his presence at all these events. Cohen (who’s Jewish) doesn’t squirm away from edgy humor–one particularly funny segment right at the beginning of the film shows a Kazakhstanian village celebration called “The Running of the Jew”–which only raises the stakes in getting big laughs.
Semi-underground comedy shows have a spotty history in their translation to the big screen. Mr. Show’s Run, Ronnie, Run was a grave disappointment artistically and a disaster commercially. The Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy tanked at the box office, though it has amassed a devoted cult following on DVD, thanks mainly to it turning out to be hysterical once all the box office-failure nonsense is forgotten. Tom Green produced a movie so weird, most people try to pretend it doesn’t exist (though I have a sneaking suspicion that 1,000 years from now, when scholars are trying to educate college students on how depraved 2000 A.D. North America was, Freddy Got Fingered will be a syllabus mainstay). Monty Python’s Holy Grail was perhaps the only cinematic crossover successful on all levels. It’s unclear whether Borat can find a big enough audience to satisfy the corporate bean-counters at the studio, but the important thing is we all have finally have another great comedy to look forward to.