The most remarkable thing about this movie, which I'll call Borat 2 for the sake of argument, is that it's the only major film that was shot in 2020, takes place in 2020, and was released in 2020. Otherwise, fourteen years after the first Borat came out to the disgust and delight of millions, there's not much new here. Star/creator Sacha Baron Cohen continues to shine a light on right-wing idiocy in America, but at this point, is anyone surprised at what he discovers?
Replacing Borat costar Ken Davidian – whose hirsute, corpulent nudity provided some of that film's most memorable moments – is Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, playing Borat's neglected daughter Tutar. (The film's premise is that Borat returns to the U.S. to offer Donald Trump a monkey as a diplomatic gift, only to find that Tutar had stowed away in the monkey's crate and ate the monkey.) Bakalova is certainly happy to offend the real-life dupes she encounters with Baron Cohen, and her role tightens the film's focus onto women's rights. She has an undeniable sweetness, though, and that sweetness somewhat dulls Borat 2's edge. In the end, Baron Cohen comes across as an old softie. Depending on your point of view, you may find Borat 2 more palatable than its predecessor, and/or less outrageous and thus less funny. Either way, it's a document of how humor has changed since 2006. (Director Jason Woliner, a TV comedy veteran, lacks Borat director Larry Charles's perverse bite.)
As for Baron Cohen, he obviously couldn't expect many Americans to buy him as an unknown Kazakh reporter after fourteen years of viewers quoting Borat catchphrases like "High five!" and "My wife!" The film acknowledges this early on, with Borat being recognized and chased through the streets by fans, then resorting to ridiculous disguises so that Baron Cohen can prank with more ease.
Amazingly, he still manages to find a handful of folks ignorant of the Borat character; how he found them, while wearing Borat's signature gray suit, is a mystery. And that actually is the one real problem I had with the film: there seems something vaguely pre-structured about it, even though apparently it's not. Many scenes have all-too-perfect payoffs in later scenes, and I found myself wondering, "Did they plan this part? How? Who else was in on this?" I kept thinking about the nuts and bolts of the film, which became distracting.
Of course Baron Cohen lucked out – in a dark and unexpected way – in that he made the film just as the coronavirus began spreading across the country. And thus we get some precious moments like Mike Pence boasting to supporters that the U.S. only has 15 cases of Covid and that the crisis will soon be over, or a segment in which Borat is under lockdown with conspiracy theorists. But while the scene in which Rudy Giuliani creepily flirts with Bakalova during a mock interview is already notorious, I found him more deluded than horrifying – just another sleazy old politician who thinks he's Mr. Charming. And the fact that this scene didn't destroy what's left of Giuliani's career says as much about the year 2020 as anything in Borat 2 does.