Sacha Baron Cohen's 2002 vehicle Ali G Indahouse tried haplessly to wedge Cohen's titular wanna-b-boy into the context of a feature film. Without the exhilarating mix of high and low culture, and the real, unsuspecting interviewees that characterized Da Ali G Show, Cohen's daft youth reporter came off as just another clueless faux-black poser along the lines of Jamie Kennedy in Malibu's Most Wanted. Cohen's Borat character, another product of Da Ali G Show now getting a movie of his own, is essentially what vaudevillians called a "dialect act," a broad ethnic caricature in the lowbrow baggy-pants tradition.
So what's the big deal? Cohen's genius lies in combining the chameleon-like virtuosity of Peter Sellers with the balls-out fearlessness of the Jackass crew. And thankfully, the makers of Borat (or, as it's impractically but deliciously subtitled, Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan) have learned much from Ali G Indahouse. Instead of jamming Eastern Europe's reigning ill-will ambassador into a fictional context, they've set him loose in the real world, pitting Cohen's blithely ignorant reporter against a bevy of unsuspecting Americans. The result, unsurprisingly, feels like three Borat-heavy Ali G Shows stitched together with an exceedingly loose framework involving Borat's quest to meet and woo Pamela Anderson, then climactically stuff her into the traditional Kazakh wedding sack.
Though preferable in every way to Ali G Indahouse, Borat incurs a few bruises during the leap from TV to the big screen. Fans of Cohen's television work will find much of Borat awfully familiar: By this point, the bane of Kazakhstan's tourism board has seemingly offended half the bluebloods south of the Mason-Dixon line. But what was hilarious on TV still proves hilarious here. And while Borat is preferable in small doses, a few setpieces make glorious use of the broader cinematic form, particularly an exhilaratingly endless, beyond-homoerotic nude fight/chase scene between Cohen and his bear-like producer (a scene-stealing Ken Davitian). In choosing cheap gags over incisive cultural commentary, Borat scores more as scatology than satire, but it's easy to overlook its ramshackle nature in light of the explosive laughter.