"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Cheap Thrills

Hot Stove season means I go to the movies again. I went to see “Borat” and “The Departed” over the last two days and found them both mildly enjoyable. “Borat” is a tight, well-made comedy but I didn’t love it (most everyone else in the theater seemed to enjoy it more than I did). I appreciate that it is mercifully short–shouldn’t all comedies clock in under 90 minutes?–but essentially the movie is put-on. Sacha Baron Cohen cons people, he puts one over on them and the results are supposed to show America as it really is. I’m not buying it. What I learned from this movie is that drunk frat boys can be sexist, bigoted creeps, that rednecks say the darndest redneck things and that born again Chritians are hopped-up Jesus freaks. I mean, tell me something I don’t know. There is something that is altogether too easy in all of this. The Borat character can be very funny in subtle, observational ways, but part of the comedy here is to be aggresive and hostile. It’s Reality TV-based satire, “Jackass” with subtext. Part of the thrill for audiences is seeing how far Cohen will go, how far will he push the envelope. He doesn’t disappoint, though he he clearly knows how far to go. For instance, he approaches a group of black kids in a tough neighborhood and in short time is able to disarm them. However, he isn’t rude or offensive with them as he is with easier, less threatening white targets.

Cohen is a modern version of Andy Kaufman, and his Borat displays a vulnerability and sensitivity that Kaufman rarely brought to his characters (with the exception of Latka). And it’s Borat’s vulernability that makes the movie winning–the audience let out a collective “aawwww,” when Borat was down-on-his-luck–they really liked him. “Borat” moves along at a brisk pace and it’s over before you know it. Ultimately, I just can’t get into making people look like morons (even if they are morons) for the sake of “exposing ignorance.” I think it’s mean and cheap. That’s just me, though. Cohen is convincing and he does have some fine moments. I’ll be hard-pressed to forget the naked-wrestling scene, which managed to go from hilarious to flat-out gross to daring and then hilarious again.

I expected “The Departed” to be good cheese and I wasn’t let down. I mean if Scorsese can’t make a gangster movie anymore then you know he’s really shot. He’s like The Rolling Stones in this one, the old rocker still doing his thing. In fact, the movie opens up with the Stones’ “Gimmie Shelter.” Unfortunately, Scorsese doesn’t have the same sly sense of humor that his old friend Brian DePalma used to have, and there is no joke, no irony to the use of a song that not only sounds like a song that Scorsese would use in a gangster movie but one that he has already used (“Good Fellas”). But that’s never been his strength, and otherwise, this an enjoyable ride. The movie moves by quickly and without much consequence but it is hammy fun. The young cast adds a level of self-consciousness to it all though. It’s like watching kids play cops and robbers. Marky Mark, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon grew up in a generation of American boys who idolized Scorsese’s tough guy movies. Now they get to play tough too. Marky Mark has the hammiest role of the three but I thought he was funnier than he was tough. Damon handles his role well, but I just couldn’t buy DiCaprio–who I enjoyed in “The Aviator” and “Catch Me if You Can”. Didn’t buy him as tough or tortured. Scorsese tries to add some emotional heft to the movie through DiCaprio’s character and it doesn’t stick. But the movie still clicks along so that DiCaprio doesn’t kill things. Unlike “Cape Fear,” another Hollywood turn by Scorsese, “The Departed” never becomes turgid.

The movie is too long and there is a boring subplot with a woman (in a thanklessly written role). But Nicholson is fun and his right-hand man is pretty scary. Alec Baldwin chews up some scenery too. In all, it’s like “Glengarry Glen Ross” meets “Oceans 11.” I’d say that it is one of Scorsese’s most entertaining movies in years. That said, the movie slipped out of memory quickly after I left the theater. Fun fluff but really it’s just the same old song.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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