Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova

Director: Jason Woliner

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for No-Holds-Barred Outrageousness

Release Date: October 23, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

About four and a half minutes into Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Kazakhstani reporter Borat Sagdiyev says “My wife,” and when I heard it, all felt right in the world. The first Borat flick came out on November 3, 2006, and on November 4, 2006, the world became overrun with hacky Borat impressions. In the fourteen years hence, his catchphrases have gone through a cycle of sincere to ironic to post-ironic and back again about 14 times (or maybe 1400 times). Somehow, though, Baron Cohen is now able to slide back into his famous creation without suffering one bit under the weight of his legacy. Borat’s reputation is primarily about his ability to hold up a mirror to society, but he’s also a fascinating character in his own right, layered with so many levels of absurd details. Joining that absurd litany is his daughter Tutar, brought to dementedly go-for-broke life by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova.

A new Borat film is enough justification for a chaotic imp like myself to pepper all my conversations with outbursts of “wah wah wee wah” and “very nice,” but will everyone else be speaking the same language, as they were back in 2006? My gut says no, because it’s nearly impossible to recreate a phenomenon like that, but also because this sequel won’t have the benefit of huge crowds enjoying it together in packed theaters. Of course, that formula is a bit different in the midst of a pandemic, so there’s a chance that Subsequent Moviefilm actually could hit the zeitgeist pretty hard as a straight-to-streaming release. But ultimately, to my mind anyway, that shouldn’t be the main goal of this endeavor. The most important question to ask ourselves should be (and I cannot reiterate this enough): after watching this film, does saying “my wife!” feel funnier than it did before? In my case, the answer is “absolutely.”

As much of a big deal as I’m making of the “my wife” of it all, it should be noted that that gag is a relatively small portion of the running time. Ostensibly, Baron Cohen’s goal is to once again expose the dark, bigoted underbelly lurking within America. But if you’ve lived in this country for the past few years, you might have noticed that there’s not that much left that needs exposing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still revelations to be had. The MAGA types that Borat encounters along the way behave pretty much as you expect them to. But once he tells them stories about the backwards traditions of his fictional Kazakhstan, it starts to get interesting. Some people play along, perhaps just to be polite, while others double down on their prejudiced impulses. But then there are those moments when the most knee-jerk conspiratorial thoughtfully disagree with him, laying bare the sort of pretzel logic that is perhaps quite commonplace in human society.

While the improvised interactions with civilians are frequently poignant, it’s the scripted moments that I found most hilarious. The plot is driven by Borat’s mission to deliver to Vice President Mike Pence (“America’s most famous ladies man”) a gift of Johnny the Monkey, Kazakhstan’s most popular primate porn star. But when that goes awry, the plan changes to him offering the teenage Tutar as a new wife for Pence (or whomever in Donald Trump’s orbit will take her). Baron Cohen is famed for his clown training, and Bakalova matches (and often tops) him in her willingness to transform into the most comical possible version of herself.

As outrageous as their antics mostly are, there’s also a sweet, beating heart at the core of their interactions. He wants her to sleep in the biggest, most comfortable cage in the world, and she loves him for his efforts to do so, but she eventually starts to wonder if maybe the fairy tales she’s heard about women not being able to do pretty much anything aren’t as true as she once thought. (The revolution she endures when confronted with the truth actually reminds me of the fight scene in They Live, with its similar underscoring of the disruption inherent to having your eyes opened.) So while Borat’s cries of “my wife” have been delightfully echoing in our ears for quite some time, maybe now they’ll also be paired with proud proclamations of “my daughter.”

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is Recommended If You Like: Hearty Belly Laughs, Fractured Fairy Tales, Cultural Icons That Endure Much Longer Than Expected

Grade: 4 out of 5 Hrams