'Borat': Stranger in a Strange Land

Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) celebrates his planned visit to America with his Kazakh neighbors.
Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) celebrates his planned visit to America with his Kazakh neighbors. (Twentieth Century Fox)

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Friday, November 3, 2006

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" arrives with the following disclaimer: "No reputations, public images or feelings were harmed in the filming of this production."

Not!

In "Cultural Learnings," Borat, played with seamless disingenuousness by Sacha Baron Cohen, has come to America to make a feature-length documentary for the people of his home country (played by Romania). He embarks on his journey with a producer named Azamat (Ken Davitian), making a triumphant exit from his village in a tiny car drawn by a horse.

The team's tour of America begins in New York -- where Borat mistakes a hotel elevator for his room and later meets with a group of feminists ("Give me a smile, baby, why the angry face?"). But soon Borat and Azamat are on their way to California ("Pearl Harbor is there," Borat explains. "So is Texas."), which entails a trip through the American South that resembles nothing less than Sherman's march as conceived by the writers and editors of the ironic newsweekly the Onion.

As Borat cuts his wide and occasionally vicious swath, no petard goes unhoisted, a spectacle that delivers squeals, howls or at least low-level chuckles nearly all the way through. Unlike some television shows-turned-features, "Cultural Learnings" works as a film, with its payoff every bit as outrageous and funny as its setup. The result is a perfect combination of slapstick and satire, a Platonic ideal of high- and lowbrow that manages to appeal to our basest common denominators while brilliantly skewering racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and that peculiarly American affliction: we're-number-one-ism.

-- Ann Hornaday

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan R, 89 minutes Contains pervasive crude and sexual content, including graphic nudity, and profanity. Area theaters.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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