When I was a young boy, like most 1950s families, we spent a lot of time watching our three-channel TV. It seemed like Bob Hope was on all the time. My dad thought Bob was one very funny guy. I didn’t. Never did. Never will.
I suspect that Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (buy stock in manufacturers of movie marquee letters) may reveal similar generation gaps. My sons had put the talented Mr. Cohen on my popular culture radar screen a couple of years ago. He first made his mark in England as wannabe Ali G who would pose as an interviewer of unsuspecting political and cultural figures. He is so smart and quick that the poor interviewees are made to look like idiots much to the amusement of all of us viewers who are in on the scam.
Ali G was so successful that Cohen invented another character, Borat Sagdiyev, a lanky mustachioed TV journalist from Khazakhstan (which I learned is a real country-go figure) who comes to America to a make a documentary film on the greatness of our land. Shortly after his arrival, Borat sees an episode of Baywatch, and he becomes infatuated with Pamela Anderson. He then pursues a cross country journey from New York to Los Angeles to find his new true love.
That journey provides Cohen with the plot line to connect a series of unrelated, mostly hilarious episodes. Borat meets a humor coach, gets invited to a dinner party, buys a gun, sings Khazakhstan’s national anthem at a rodeo, parties with some frat boys, finds Jesus at a revival, streaks a mortgage broker’s convention and assaults Pamela Anderson. Whew!
There are different levels to these hijinks-witty word play, searing satire, jackass gross-outs, slapstick and really really incorrect political humor (“the running of the Jews” in Borat’s hometown). Most of it is very funny stuff.
I like it best when Borat reminded me of Andy Kauffman’s Latka in the old sitcom Taxi, or the Tarzan movie where he comes to New York City. Borat is the foreign innocent who is oblivious to the darker, mean-spirited side of America. His innocence sharply exposes our racism, homophobia and jingoism in the country, but the guilessness of the character lightens the bitterness and anger of so much of our current political humor (see Michael Moore).
For me almost anything is fair game for satire and mockery. The only test is whether or not it makes somebody laugh. I am very sure that many people will not like this movie and probably shouldn’t go to see it. Many more will have ambivalence about Borat. Others will find it the funniest movie they have seen in a long time.
Of one thing I am certain: If you’re a big fan of Bob Hope, you should definitely stay home. Borat ain’t no Road to Rio.