Borat (15)

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Most comedies depend on someone saying absolutely the wrong thing in front of absolutely the wrong people, but the viewer's vicarious embarrassment is always diluted, mercifully, by the knowledge that none of it is real. Not so with Borat. What makes Sacha Baron Cohen's new film so much more daring and subversive than Ali G In Da House, the last cinematic spin-off of one of his TV alter egos, is that it's a docu-comedy. There are some scripted scenes, but more often the appalled participants believe that they're talking to a genuine television reporter from Kazakhstan. You have to fight the urge to watch with your hands over your eyes.

After an opening tour of his home village in the mountains, Borat Sagdiyev sets off on a road trip across the United States to make an educational travel programme. He meets a "humour consultant", a feminist group, a redneck rodeo organiser, and more. And while not every segment is painfully side-splitting, so many of them are that I was grateful for the odd brief respite. In a way, Borat is a traditional fish-out-of-water comedy, with Borat as an uncool Crocodile Dundee or a funny Mr Bean. But in another way it's the most gloriously offensive film since Team America: World Police, with its naive hero fitting three inexcusable sentiments into every sentence.

The twist is that, as ignorant and bigoted as Borat is, he's more than matched by the Americans he encounters. We could debate for hours what precisely Baron Cohen is saying about xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Kazakhstan, but that's a trifling matter next to the fact that Borat is one of the most hilarious films I've ever squirmed through.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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