The feature debut of Sacha Baron Cohen's beloved Ali G persona operates under an innate disadvantage, because Da Ali G Show gets its exhilarating tension from the interaction between real and fake, as scripted questions are posed to unscripted, unsuspecting interviewees. By subjecting American luminaries to inane queries from Cohen's B-boy wannabe, the HBO show elevates ambush comedy to the level of performance art. How could any actor, no matter how skilled, be as compelling a straight man for Ali G's antics as C. Everett Koop or Buzz Aldrin?
In jumping from the small screen to the big one, the franchise seems to have dropped its collective IQ by a good 50 points. Cohen's HBO series was a smart show pretending to be stupid. Making its debut on DVD after a brief 2002 theatrical run, Ali G Indahouse feels like a stupid movie made by smart people—it feeds from the same trough of bawdy scatological humor as other post-There's Something About Mary lowbrow comedies.
Before it starts chafing under the demands of plot and story, Ali G Indahouse gets off to a terrific start in following Cohen as he teaches an advanced "Keep It Real Class" that he hopes will help a Boy Scout-like troupe escape the ghetto. Needless to say, for the film's blinkered protagonist, the ghetto, like blackness, is largely a state of mind that can be reached by listening to a 2Pac album, smoking a joint, or sporting Wu-Wear. Through a convoluted series of events echoing Being There, Cohen eventually becomes an MP and an idiot-savant advisor to the Prime Minister (Michael Gambon) before unwittingly setting off a scandal involving a sex tape and nefarious politico Charles Dance. An early bit in which Cohen wakes from a funny dream sequence to discover his dog licking his genitals gives fair warning about the level of comedy to come. But whenever the film seems to have disappeared too far down the rabbit hole of crass humor and arbitrary plot points, it conjures up a great line like Cohen warning the police that Dance is "a criminal, and not even the good kind that sell drugs and do drive-bys."
What's missing from the film isn't laughs—it's got plenty of those—but the cohesive satirical vision Cohen brings to his TV show. Without it, the film amounts to little more than a padded assemblage of gags running the gamut from sublimely silly to insultingly stupid. The film's politically charged plot gives Cohen and company entry to the corridors of power, but the only room they seem interested in exploring is the bathroom.