'Borat 2' Review: Rudy Giuliani Among Many Targets Hit in Sacha Baron Cohen's Sledgehammer Satire

Not many people have seen Borat 2 yet, and yet Sacha Baron Cohen's new sequel is already making headlines across the world before its Amazon Prime Video release. Mostly, this is for one moment, when Trump ally Rudi Giuliani appears to be seducing a young female reporter, and is seen putting his hands into his pants. He has said this is to tuck in his shirt, but the moment is certainly edited to suggest something else.

This is exactly the kind of moment that Cohen has made his career capturing. The character of Borat, for example, first found fame Da Ali G Show, Cohen's British sketch show of the early '00s, in which the character would interview people in the actor's signature squirm-worthy style.

As the Giuliani scene has already suggested, Borat is still a character who works best in sketch-like moments, in which the idiot Kazakhstani reporter is precision-tooled to make people in power think they are smarter than him, making them let down their guard and reveal their true selves.

Though Borat 2, or to use its full title, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, has a number of scenes like this, never add up to more than the sum of their parts.

The sequel is very much the Godfather III to the first movie's Godfather, (with the dip in quality that suggests very much intended. In the new movie, Borat is our Michael Corleone—just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in.

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'Borat 2' is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from October 23. Amazon Prime Video

After angering the entire nation of Kazakhstan with his first films (a nice meta-moment after the anger the first film caused in the country), Borat is tasked with making amends to the Kazakhstani rulers by delivering a gift to Donald Trump on their behalf. After a series of mishaps, it is decided that Borat will give his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) to Mike Pence.

Once this scenario is set, the aim of the Subsequent Moviefilm is clear—to satirize Americans in the age of Trump by putting those who work with him, and those who voted for him, in ridiculous situations in which their true bigotry and foolishness are revealed. The standard Cohen playbook, in other words.

The film has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, plus many moments that hit their target, but for every moment that will have you cringing and cackling, there is one that misses its mark.

The best satire is like a scalpel, expertly cutting to the heart of the rot in the body politic. Cohen's approach, however, is more like a sledgehammer—sure, it may hit its target, but it smashes up everything around it too.

As such, there are some moments of Borat that really work. Watching Borat dressed as Trump disrupt Pence's speech at CPAC, for example, is a Cohen stunt par excellence. The Giuliani segment is alarming—even if he is just tucking his shirt in, his treatment of this attractive young journalist before that moment is still deeply unsettling. Another scene sees the character interacting with two men who chillingly tell Borat with utter sincerity about how the Clintons drink children's blood—a haunting reminder of how strongly QAnon has taken root in some voters' minds.

The film, however, does not know how to pick its targets. There is some argument for ridiculing these people, or for other scenes exposing an anti-abortion counselor at a crisis pregnancy center who brushes over incest and a woman in a bakery who has no problem with piping "Jews will not replace us" on a cake.

Cohen's hidden camera style, however, leaves too much collateral damage. Much of the film's laughs rely on ordinary people just trying to do their jobs, whether it is a man who has to send increasingly bizarre messages for him via fax or a poor salon worker who has to stop him from eating the lipsticks. When there are so many targets ripe for attack in the film, you cannot help but feel sorry for these people just trying to do their jobs without having to deal with someone acting like an alien in a "fish out of water" comedy.

Many will not mind this, and will find every offensive thing the character does hilarious. For others, the joke will not be funny anymore—when a President speaks of "s***hole countries" and the nationalistic sentiment is on the rise, it is harder to laugh at a character based on crude ethnic stereotypes, even if those stereotypes are there to satirize the people who make them.

That is not to say the sequel is without strong moments. In an early scene, Cohen takes to the streets in America, only to be bombarded by people who recognize him and want selfies, autographs, etc. In one scene, Borat even visits a costume shop, in which he comes across a Borat costume (or, for copyright reasons, an "idiot foreign reporter" suit).

It is a shame that the movie did not lean more into these metafictional elements, as it asks a fascinating question the movie never answers: Why does anyone still allow themselves to be interviewed by anyone who looks remotely like Sacha Baron Cohen when he is world-famous for making people look like morons on national television and film? Perhaps we will find the answer in Borat's "subsequent subsequent moviefilm" 15 years into the future.

Borat 2 is released on Friday, October 23 on Amazon Prime Video.