The goodwill generated by one of the most manic fish out of water comedies in recent times is greatly diminished in this dead fish of a follow-up. There are few happy returns as Jason Woliner’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (D+) sends its intrepid foreign reporter played by Sacha Baron Cohen back to America on a redemption tour to counter the embarrassment his titular character inflicted on his homeland in the original film. The notoriously sexist and anti-Semitic but strangely likable hero is on a mission to broker a relationship with the United States presidential administration by offering his own daughter, played by Maria Bakalova, as a gift to VP Mike Pence. Aside from some pretty ambitious stunts propelling this mockumentary crew very close to high seats of power, the film is gloomily shot and meandering in theme and tone. Sequences that worked so well to make potent points in the first film are squandered this time around: a case in point is a charm school sequence used for a cheap gag instead of a funny or piercing insight. The film stumbles onto two interesting notions: Its filming during the pandemic takes it on an interesting if not fully exploited detour, and the casting of the lively and likable Bakalova as daughter and sidekick allows for a vaguely feminist arch for her suppressed character. Overall though, this glum follow-up in which its main character seems to be going through the motions, often in lame disguises, neither nails its topics nor nails its targets. It’s merely subsequent when it could have been vital as parody — or even just competent.
Usually the mere thought of a new entry into the mockumentary series pioneered by writer/director Christopher Guest brings a sly smile to the face. Alas the funny auteur’s Mascots (D+), a direct-to-Netflix take on furries who get fans in a frenzy, doesn’t get animated nearly enough. Perhaps after exploring theatre, dog shows, movie awards and folk music, the format is getting stale. The overall ensemble lacks energy, and the story has a paucity of punch. The lack of central protagonists or and major plot momentum lead to a ho-hum competition devoid of drama. Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. get some of the best moments; but like all the others, their character arches aren’t sustained. Favorites Parker Posey and Jennifer Coolidge are wasted. Guest even uncorks his own cherished on-screen character from Waiting for Guffman and doesn’t give him anything to do. Most of the actors are simply lucky their faces are covered for much of the film’s duration.
Christopher Guest directs and stars in Waiting for Guffman (B+), an uproarious mockumentary about the denizens of a small town (Blaine, Missouri: the “stool capital of the world”) putting on a production to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Eugene Levy, Parker Posey and Catherine O’Hara are among the hilarious ensemble with each playing a singularly incompetent actor. It’s a must-see for fans of dry, small-town humor.
Murphy Brown only scratched the surface. The cultural elite of the Hollywood left-wing has achieved its most fulfilling revenge through actor Tim Robbins’ auspicious directorial debut, Bob Roberts (B+), a scathing parody of ultra-conservatism. This is a gloriously partisan film of deep-rooted anger at the likes of Rush Limbaugh using a quasi-documentary format to chronicle a fictional Pennsylvania senatorial campaign’s meteoric ascension co-opting folk music and other traditionally progressive techniques for GOP ascension. Robbins is excellent in the showy (and musical) title role with strong support from Gore Vidal as the liberal candidate he is determined to unseat. This is much better work than the thematically similar Warren Beatty film Bulworth.