After seeing Brüno, me figured it was a good time to re-watch the two other movies spawned by Da Ali G Show, Sacha Baron Cohen’s cult TV classic. On Da Ali G Show, Baron Cohen established three distinct and hilarious (although not equally) characters, each of which has become the basis for a full-length film: Ali G, a wannabe white rapper who puts the ill in ill-informed; Borat Sagdiyev, a clueless Kazakhstani television reporter; and Brüno, a gay, self-absorbed fashionista.
On Da Ali G Show, the road to laughs was simple. They put each of Baron Cohen’s characters into interview situations with real people, who definitely aren’t in on the joke. Comedy ensues as Baron Cohen’s characters ask outrageous questions and violate social taboos, while getting the interviewees to reveal their own ignorance and predjudices. The results have been at times brilliant, crude, and often fearless. And understandably, not everyone’s cup of tea.
Baron Cohen deserves a lot of credit for melting into each character (when he’s Brüno, you forget he’s Borat, and vice versa) and his ability to stay in character and milk the comedy from whatever outrageous situation he’s created. By the way, if you think that’s easy, try and watch without saying (or thinking), “Oh my God, I can’t believe they’re doing this!” They are. And I suspect that even after the cameras are off, Baron Cohen still doesn’t let those people in on the joke.
One thing you have to remember if you want to try and rank Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G movies is the effect they had on you the first time you saw them. That “Oh My God” factor has to be accounted for. It’s a different experience once you know what’s coming. So here we go, it’s the Sacha Baron Cohen countdown:
3 – Ali G Indahouse (2002) – This was the first of Da Ali G Show characters to be made into a feature. It went straight to DVD, and deservably so. On this one, they made a major swerve from their formula. It’s an entirely scripted story, as opposed to the unscripted tactics of the TV show (and the basis for the two other films). So what you get is one of those “vehicles” where they try and shoehorn an established character into an awkward movie. In that respect, it might as well be Weird Al Yankovic in UHF, or Mr. T in DC Cab. It makes no difference that Baron Cohen co-wrote the script. The movie simply tries too hard. Ali G was always the least interesting character from the original show. D
2 – Brüno (2009) – It was the number one movie at the box office this last weekend, and deserveably so. Crude, vulgar, uncomfortable (a ri-dong-ulous amount of full-frontal male nudity), and funny! Ten times more outrageous than Borat. I’m not surprised by that. In a way, you have to top yourself if you’re Baron Cohen. Even with the thinnest of plots (Brüno searches for a way to become “uber-famous”), this movie finishes stronger than Borat. My original fear was that I’d only like this movie about 60% as much as Borat. I’m not sure where I got my formula for that. But I liked this one a lot–and more and more as I think back on it. B
1 – Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) – Still my favorite Baron Cohen movie. I watched it for the umpteenth time yesterday. Yes, it’s been surpassed by Brüno on the raunchiness. But I still laughed my ass off watching two grown men–one of them very fat–wrestle each other naked, then chase each other nude through a hotel and into a packed convention ballroom. It’s even funnier because this stuff really happened. Everyone involved signs release forms ahead of time without knowing what to expect once filming begins. It’s said that the police were called no less than 91 times during the making of Borat. The thing Borat has over Brüno is heart. You root for this guy. He’s likeable. Which is saying something of a character who’s both misogynistic and anti-Semitic. A
Finally, if you enjoy any of the above, check out Da Ali G Show, which aired on HBO in the U.S. Both seasons are available on DVD.
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