Sacha Baron Cohen can be funny, but his moment has passed. His fake persona is not nearly as amusing as Donald Trump’s real one. If Baron Cohen is to be judged as someone who exposes public prejudices — which is how, increasingly, he seems to want us to judge him — he falls a long way short. Even his most celebrated work — the film Borat — fails badly in this respect. He crosses America posing as a documentary-maker from Kazakhstan, duping ordinary people by persuading them to take part in what the producers described to them as a ‘documentary about the integration of foreign people into the American way of life’.
But if the aim was to expose the prejudices of ordinary Americans it is remarkable how little it succeeds in doing this. At one point a man at a rodeo makes a homophobic remark about wanting to do away with American gays, but that is it. When, also at the rodeo, Baron Cohen attempts to whip up the crowd into patriotic fervor, he elicits a cheer when he says Kazakhstan supports America’s war on terror — a hardly unreasonable cheer on the part of the spectators — but it rapidly turns into horrified looks and boos when he starts talking about destroying Iraq so that not one lizard will survive. When he sings a song called ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’ in a country club, he gets a few people stamping their feet in turn to the music — but, as in his Washington stunt — only one or two join in the offending line. Most of the rest look disgusted. Elsewhere, he encounters nothing but kindness and tolerance.