‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ is Almost as Funny as the Original

Sacha Baron Cohen has long since proven to have balls of steel in doing the things he does, and you have to admire the fearlessness he exhibits from one crazy moment to the next. But when it comes to him bringing back his most famous character, Kazakh news reporter Borat Margaret Sagdiyev, there is a special daring on display here as Cohen has every reason not to. He announced his decision to retire the Borat persona some time ago as the character had become too recognizable for him to prank others successfully, but now he’s back 14 years later in “Borat Subsequent Movefilm,” a sequel which lays waste to the most ignorant parts of America, and one which proves to be almost as good as the original.

As the film begins, we discover Borat was sentenced a life of hard labor after embarrassing his home country of Kazakhstan all those years ago. In addition to failing to marry Pamela Anderson and, in his own words, “make love explosion on her stomach,” the townspeople in his village now infinitely despise him. He even discovers one his sons, Huey Lewis, now hates him so much to where he has legally changed his name to Jeffrey Epstein. If this is not spitting in a father’s face, I don’t know what is.

One day, however, he is released from the gulag by the country’s Premier Nursultan Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu, playing a fictionalized version of the leader) to deliver a gift to Donald Trump in an effort to redeem himself in his nation’s eyes. Along with him for the ride is the daughter he never knew he had, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), whom he eventually decides to gift to Vice-President Mike Pence even if Pence’s mother or wife does not approve.

“Borat Subsequent Movefilm” makes it clear as soon as it can of how its title character can no longer prey on unsuspecting targets without being recognized. As he tries to walk down the street like any other person, onlookers are quick to greet him despite his best attempts to remain invisible to them. To deal with this inescapable situation, he retreats to a nearby costume shop where he acquires as many disguises as Inspector Clouseau did in all those “Pink Panther” motion pictures, and it is amazing to see what he gets away with.

I would like to believe it is easier to spot Cohen these days as few actors have his height (he is 6 feet, 3 inches tall), and those eyes of his have a unique look to them. Nevertheless, he still manages to trick those who were so unsuspecting to where we wonder if they have any contact with social media or the rest of the world in the slightest. While watching this “Borat” sequel, I kept thinking about “In the Line of Fire” in which John Malkovich played a government-trained assassin who employs a number of different disguises during his attempt to assassinate the President of the United States. Like Malkovich’s character, Cohen manages to fool so many into believing he is the real deal when they should know better. Like Clint Eastwood, I wanted to tell everyone here to look at the eyes as they reveal more than anything else on the surface can.

But as brilliant as Cohen is here, special credit needs to be given to Maria Bakalova as she proves to be as equally fearless in exposing the prejudices of others as Cohen is. Right from the start, she dives right into the deep end as Tutar and appears unafraid to place herself in embarrassing situations others would never be caught dead in. Her commitment to her performance is equal to Cohen’s, and the two make quite the team as they skewer the most unsuspecting people in America. Many of my friends believe Bakalova should be considered for an Oscar nomination for her work here, and I am in complete agreement.

As I watched “Borat Subsequent Film,” I wondered if certain people in America were ignorant either in a willful way or due to a poor education they were subjected to. Borat and Tutar come across those citizens who are not quite up to date on what is going in the world. When Borat asks a tanning salon employee what is the best color for a racist, the employee quickly answers without batting an eye. When Tutar swallows a plastic baby on top of the cupcake she vicariously eats, she and Borat head to a nearby crisis pregnancy center (not to be mistaken for a Planned Parenthood) to have it removed, but Pastor Jonathan Bright thinks these two are involved in an incestuous relationship. Still, he is not eager to terminate what he believes to be an actual pregnancy even if it was conceived in an unsubtle way. As for the debutante ball, I am amazed at those who choose to participate in such a bizarre event, especially the adults who prove to be far too admiring of the teenage girls being put out on display.

But of course, the most talked about moment in this “Borat” sequel comes when Tutar gets to interview Rudy Giuliani, the one-time mayor of New York City. Much has been said about how Rudy acted following the interview, but it does look like he was simply straightening out his pants. Then again, some might describe what he did as being the equivalent of “the Picard Maneuver.” Regardless, when Giuliani asked Tutar for her address and phone number, the average viewer had to be disturbed.

One of the few people who comes off unscathed here and rightfully so is Tutar’s babysitter, Jeanise Jones. Granted, she is being duped like the others, but at least she is able to offer Tutar some much needed advice such as women do not need to be put in cages, and she also convinces her not to get that breast enhancement surgery because, of course, she does not need it. It’s nice to see that, even when an individual is being pranked, they still can seem intelligent simply because they are more in touch with the world than anybody else here.

“Borat Subsequent Film” is in many ways a hit-and-miss affair. Not all the jokes work, but the ones which do work had me laughing harder than at any other movie I watched this year. That it is not the equal of “Borat” should not be a surprise as the first film came at us out of nowhere, and we did not see its comedic firestorm coming at us. With this sequel, we have an idea of what to expect, but this still did not deter Cohen or director Jason Woliner from taking another stab at American culture. In the end, we got a sequel which defied heightened expectations and delivered some much-needed hysterics during the clusterfuck of a year which has been 2020.

As politically incorrect as Borat and Tutar are, it is fun to watch them evolve throughout as they reach a new place of understanding. Of course, as the ending shows, and to quote a lyric from a Paula Abdul song, they have taken two steps forward and two steps back.

As for Giuliani, his career was circling the drain even before he represented Trump. If he ends up getting a Presidential pardon, it will not be for his work here.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Inverse’ is an Infinitely Thoughtful and Riveting Sci-Fi Movie

Inverse movie poster

When it comes to mind-bending science fiction movies, I have gotten into the habit of trying to stay ahead of the filmmakers to see if I can guess where the story is heading and how it’s going to end. “The Sixth Sense” among other movies got me good, but now I want to beat directors at their own game. I don’t know, maybe I’m just sick of people playing with my head. But with Matt Duggan’s “Inverse,” it really helps not to second guess the filmmaker or attempt to stay ahead of him. Just when you think you know where this movie is heading, it becomes something else and goes out of its way to defy your expectations. What I thought was going to be something along the lines of “Starman” or maybe even “The Terminator” proved to be quite different, and it was in my best interest to just watch it and take everything in.

“Inverse” opens on a small picturesque house in a suburban neighborhood where we see a naked man (played by Josh Wingate) emerging from a swimming pool with no idea of who he is. Once he steps inside the house, he finds pictures of himself and discovers his name is Max, a man who actually died some time ago. His appearance causes quite a shock for his wife and other relatives who come into contact with him, but he can’t seem to remember who they are. Then Max is met by a man named Batter (Morlan Higgins) who informs him he is actually from a parallel universe and has been travelling back and forth between universes to where his brain has been almost completely fried. As Max begins to realize who he really is, he comes face to face with people who want to learn all they can about the universe he is from, and this ends up putting him in grave danger.

Like I said, “Inverse” is not a movie you want to try to get ahead of. Duggan unveils the different layers of the movie’s story to where it truly helps to pay close attention. It invites repeat viewings so you can get deeper into the story and discover new things. The first time you watch it will give you a visceral feeling as Duggan puts you right into Max’s shoes as he desperately tries to discover why he’s here, and you feel his insatiable need to get to the truth before he reaches an unfortunate end.

The other thing which intrigued me about “Inverse” is it’s not your typical good guy/bad guy story. There are no heroes to be found here as everyone has a price to pay for the actions they end up committing. Not even Max is safe as he comes to discover the damage he has incurred during his various travels, and there is really only one person here who hasn’t done anything wrong, and yet this person still gets harmed inadvertently. I leave it to you, the viewer, to figure out who this character is.

“Inverse” meditates on what it might be like to live in a universe where the level of intelligence is much higher than our own. It would certainly be nice to use more than 20% of our brains, so the appeal of certain characters wanting to discover the secrets of this other universe is very understandable. The movie also shows how the quest for higher intelligence can be an obsessive one, and it gets to where we realize there is only so much we should be allowed to discover as it may lead to our undoing.

The cast is all around excellent, and hopefully we will get to see more from them in the future. Wingate carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders as we stay with him from the first scene to the last. It’s almost exhausting to watch him here as he is forced to exhibit a wide range of emotions, and he succeeds in making you feel all of them.

There’s also a great supporting performance from Morlan Higgins as Batter, a character who serves as Max’s conscience throughout the film. We watch as Batter explains to Max how he got to where he is now, and in the process of trying to do the right thing, Batter ends up imprisoning himself into a mental cage which offers no easy escape. Higgins is actually one of the most well-known actors on the Los Angeles theatre scene, and he proves to be the kind who inhabits a character more than he plays one. You never catch him acting, and this is one of the joys of watching his performance here.

In addition, you have strong turns from John Burish as Tommy, Max’s brother, who is put in a difficult situation of putting a close family member in harm’s way in order to get at the truth of what’s going on. There’s also Alanna Priere and Michele Lawrence who play the women in Max’s life who are not all they appear to be. To say more about their characters would be giving too much away, so I’ll leave you to see how they fit into this story.

But the best performance in “Inverse” belongs to Chris Pauley who ends up playing two roles here. The most notable role of the two is Bert, a man who knows who Max really is and where he’s from. Pauley is utterly riveting every moment he appears onscreen as he interrogates Max through various methods, one of which includes him rocking out to some techno music for no easily discernable reason. You never know what Pauley is going to do next, and you can’t take your eyes off him for a single second.

“Inverse” was made on a very low budget, and Duggan makes the most of it. In the end, this is a sci-fi movie which thrives more on ideas than on spectacle. Even if the pace drags a little, Duggan holds your attention throughout as the effects of Max’s actions become all the clearer toward the movie’s conclusion. Credit should also be given to the movie’s producers, Stephanie Bell and Trevor Boelter, for seeing it all the way to its completion. Like a lot of low budget movies, this one had a very long journey to the silver screen, and it proves to be worth the wait.

Rumor has it Duggan wants to make a trilogy of movies starting with “Inverse,” and it would be very interesting to see where Max’s adventures will go from here. This is a movie which is coming way, way, way beneath the radar, and it deserves a big audience. Here’s hoping we eventually see a sequel to it.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

“Inverse” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. If you are already a member, you can stream it for free.