Three Comedies from Sacha Baron Cohen
Ali G Indahouse (November 1/06)
That Ali G Indahouse is ultimately revealed to be a cliched and somewhat tedious comedy doesn't come as much of a surprise, given the one-note nature of the character that inspired it. Sacha Baron's Cohen's Ali G clearly works best in small doses, and there's little doubt that his appearances on The Ali G Show and various other programs have transformed him into something of a cult figure. But trapped within the confines of an awfully stale premise, the novelty of the character wears off almost immediately - with the end result a film that has little to offer all but the most die-hard Ali G fan. Ali G Indahouse follows Cohen's moronic invention as he's inexplicably elected to British Parliament, where he proceeds to shake things up with his wildly inappropriate demeanor. Although the film is admittedly kind of entertaining for a while - some of this stuff is genuinely funny - there comes a point at which the story becomes overwhelmingly familiar (ie Ali begins ignoring his friends from back home after he becomes a success). One's tolerance for such shenanigans is directly related to one's tolerance for Ali G himself, as the film essentially abandons the confrontational humor of his show and instead emphasizes his idiocy on a much larger scale. Cohen's ample charisma certainly goes a long way towards keeping things moderately interesting (temporarily, anyway), but there's unfortunately no getting around the fact that Ali G should've remained on the small screen.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
There's been plenty of hyperbole swirling around Borat over the past few months - ie funniest movie ever! - but it becomes evident almost immediately that the film simply isn't going to be able to live up to such grandiose statements. Although there are a number of genuinely hilarious moments sprinkled throughout Borat's 84-minute running time, the semi-improvisational structure ultimately lends the proceedings a distinctly hit-and-miss sort of vibe. The film follows Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen's likable yet thoroughly backwards creation, as he leaves his native Kazakhstan for the United States, where he hopes to learn more about what makes Americans tick. Directed by Larry Charles, Borat adopts a confrontational tone early on by pitting Cohen against a wide array of real-life figures (including a driving instructor, a camper van full of frat boys, and Pamela Anderson). The movie is subsequently rife with awkward sequences in which Borat exposes the uglier side of his various subjects; it's eye-opening stuff to be sure, but there's no denying that such antics eventually become repetitive (think Jackass except with slightly more plot). And while the majority of the film's bits have been spoiled by the trailers and commercials, Borat remains a sporadically effective comedy that's undoubtedly best served by a theatrical viewing.
As expected, Bruno boasts (and, by association, suffers from) a thoroughly disjointed narrative that is, at the outset, quite off-putting - with the movie's patchwork sensibilities ensuring that certain sequences are far more engaging than others. It's due primarily to Sacha Baron Cohen's impressively go-for-broke work as the title character - a flamboyantly gay Austrian who arrives in America hoping to become a superstar - that the film generally manages to sustain the viewer's interest even through its overtly sluggish stretches, although there's little doubt that the thoroughly underwhelming opening half hour ensures that things get off to as ineffective a start as one could possibly envision. The lack of momentum that ensues is perpetuated by the inclusion of several overlong and needlessly mean-spirited interludes - ie Bruno attempts to bed right-wing politician Ron Paul - and it's subsequently worth noting that Bruno initially seems as though it's going to fall right in line with its entertaining yet markedly uneven predecessor. There reaches a point, however, at which the movie's hit-to-miss ratio increases substantially, with this change triggered by an increased emphasis on segments that are genuinely hilarious (ie Bruno appears on a talk show accompanied by his adopted black child). It's certainly enough to carry the proceedings through to its jaw-dropping finale, and although Baron Cohen's shtick is starting to get a little too familiar, Bruno carves out a place for itself as a memorable, downright shocking comedy that's ultimately a slight cut above Borat.