Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat wearing two face masks (mercifully cropped) TWITTER/JWOLINER

Content Note: this article contains images of racist attire.

I respect Sacha Baron Cohen – I think. The guy’s got balls, for want of a better word. And for all his brashness and crudity, he’s also got brains. Not just because he went to Cambridge, because, after all, he read history. The detail in his performances is undeniably impressive. Here, he returns to his most beloved comic creation, the Kazakh journalist, Borat, of mankini fame. This time, Borat has been released from a gulag (serving time for ruining his nation’s reputation in the first film) to return to America, tasked by his premier with winning Trump’s approval, by any means necessary – in short, offering his daughter to Mike Pence as a bride.

Borat strides into the CPACTWITTER/ROGUECIASURVEIL

Once again I found the character’s unique vocal delivery of confused obscenities hilarious. Yet watching Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and its supposedly un-staged, improvised encounters with real people, all allegedly unaware of the set-up, I found myself recalling Christopher Hitchens’ take on the original, that ‘the joke… may well be on the prankster’.

The trouble is: set-ups that aren’t obviously faked, with stunt doubles and voice-dubbings and disingenuous cuts, simply underwhelm. Mike Pence barely reacts to Borat interrupting his conference, suggesting that either he didn’t even see the break-in happen, or he just didn’t want to satisfy it with acknowledgement. Hardly a great ‘aha’ moment.

“Let’s not pretend the film indicts Republicans, let alone of any new charges”.

The running of the papier-mâché Karen mascotsTWITTER/JANCHARTIGGY_G

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Ball-guests and attendees of a Republican women’s meeting are as accommodating as possible. Most interviewees seem well aware of what’s going on, deciding to indulge the joke rather than be awkward. As for the Rudy Giuliani sequence that is causing such a fuss, I couldn’t see much going on beyond an old man looking a little too unbothered by a female reporter’s improprieties – and if everything in the bedroom was as bad as the filmmakers intend it to look, they simply would not have cut it this way, obliquely, with several shots that, if there isn’t a stunt double, have been inexplicably made to look as if there is.

It’s yawn-inducing to look back at critics falling over themselves to stress the profound uncovering of some dark national underbelly in the original Borat. It’s all the more pathetic to see them fall for it again. But then, this time, they know that Cohen is on their side, and that he wishes it, every bit as much as they do, to be seen as keenly timed electioneering. Fine, but let’s not pretend the film indicts Republicans, let alone of any new charges.

The Trump 2020 event is, again, rapidly cut, and still resorts to blurred-out images, otherwise only managing the unprecedented triumph of getting Republicans to sing along to a ditty about Obama hating America.

“There’s no doubting Cohen and his team [...] in their ability to inject winning snippets of outrageousness into any given moment”.

The first film zipped along, only a few sequences dragging towards the end. This time, 96 minutes felt like over two hours. The abundance of tepid set-ups bears part of the blame. But the film also falls into the trap of sentimentality by the end, and not in a barbed sort of way. It’s more like a Ferrell or Sandler product which suddenly decides to attempt a melodramatic father-daughter pathos, here with the added wonder of poorly written female empowerment to sprinkle on top.

A barge appeared in Toronto sporting a giant blow-up BoratTWITTER/RICHSRD680NEWS

Perhaps this is Cohen’s attempt to atone for his political incorrectness. But, thankfully, he still has those balls. He’s still funny, and Maria Bakalova, as Borat’s daughter, shares his straight-faced commitment. There’s no doubting Cohen and his team (seven others receive screenplay credits) in their ability to inject winning snippets of outrageousness into any given moment, though many are reprisals of the original’s repertoire.

So it’s more of the same, or rather, less of the same: a fraction of the hits, several times as many misses. But if anyone regards this as serious political insight today, for critics and anyone else, then I must say I share the film’s disgust at social media and its user-targeted content, which generates one of its best punchlines.

That said, I’m not so sure I can join Cohen in imploring these platforms to exercise more, rather than less, of their control over narrative, as he did in a speech last year. Coincidentally, the New York Post story to which I refer only reached the public at all through Rudy Giuliani. This, I dare say, is better timing than the film deserves.