I find I've never had to be as defensive about an entertainment decision as I've had to be in deciding not to pay to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. So I’m explaining here and forever holding my peace, outside of forwarding the URL to people who haven’t realized they should stop bugging me about it.
I'm sure Borat is funny. I've thought Sacha Baron Cohen was funny since I first saw Da Ali G Show in the 1990s, when it was still British. The show was hilarious back then. The unwitting participants in the laughs were pretty hostile to the Ali G or Borat characters, and Cohen was good at rolling with that.
When the show came to HBO, it was still hilarious, but in a different way. The Americans were so nice to him. The hilarity came in this niceness: the desire to gloss over suggestions (even Polaroids) of Borat having sex with his sister, the struggle to maintain a polite round-table on religion while your moderator insisted you hadn't flushed the toilet after defecating, the patience of explaining why 'honkey' wasn't a nice way to describe white people.
With all of Cohen's characters, the hilarity’s produced through a reliance on the candid camera: his interlocutor/foil rising to infuriating bait, giving him too much benefit of the doubt, or else going off on an obliviously self-obsessed tangent. Witness is borne to this reliance by the unfunny, unmitigated crap that was Ali G Indahouse, a scripted film without candid reactions.
This reliance is complete with his Borat character, who says the most shocking things to the most average people. It's easier for me to laugh at Bruno and Ali G; the shtick from those characters is often directed at types who should know better because they court that kind of attention. But the humour in Borat's shtick is akin to running up to some jerk on the street, farting in his face, and filming the reaction.
I'm sure Cohen works hard on Borat. Nonetheless, it's lazy humour. It makes us laugh because we're glad it's not us getting nad-palmed, glad that no confused, earnest foreigner is anxiously asking us to join a sing-a-long of "Throw the Jew Down the Well," glad because it makes us look smarter than the people on camera. In the words of Homer Simpson watching a man get a football to the groin, “It’s funny ‘coz it’s not me.”
I'm past the point of paying to see this kind of movie. I was watching Ali G when most North Americans still thought Saturday Night Live was the be-all and end-all of television humour, so I know what I'm turning down. This movie will be fucking hilarious, no doubt about it. But I don't care. Why is that so hard to understand?