In 10 Words or Less
British goofball becomes a political pawn
I first saw this movie over a year ago, when I was invited to a screening Universal was holding to test it for an American release. 10 minutes in, a full third of the packed theater walked out. A short while later, another third jettisoned. Even the girl I went to see it with wanted to leave. Considering this was in metropolitan New York, it was a bad sign, one that was likely repeated elsewhere, since the film was never released theatrically in this country. But through the magic of DVD, this filthy lil' bugger has made its way across the pond to the New World.
If you don't know who Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen) is, you'd be best served checking out his show, either on HBO or on DVD, before diving into this movie. On his own series, the hip-hop white guy from Britain interviews various important people and makes them question their own sanity with his inane and insane lines of questioning. Sadly, they tossed that aspect of Ali G when they made Indahouse. Instead, this movie explores his own special reality under the pretense of a political parody. That may sound like the stuff of an independent film, but make no mistake: this is more Dude, Where's My Car than Election.
As Ali G deals with the junior-varsity turf wars that dominate his native middle-class Staines, he finds out that the government is about to demolish his beloved community center, where he teaches kids how to "keep it real." In protesting the move, he comes to the attention of an evil chancellor (Charles Dance) who uses him in a plot to overthrow the Prime Minister (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter.) Instead, he helps the PM "keep it real," making the current government more popular than ever. The chancellor realizes he has created a monster, and must now slay him. There are some farsical attempts to learn "lessons" and make a dramatic movie, but the plot is basically as described.
Along the way from the gang-film parody opening titles to the final credits, the jokes come fast and furious, often at Ali G's expense. Ali G is a moron and a poseur; in no way a true gangbanger. The movie won't pass up a chance to make fun of his intelligence or facade, or focus on his "beast" (read: his manhood.) Among the other targets in this film's crosshairs are homosexuality, rich people, the intelligent, women, relationships, and plenty of other subjects. When not making fun of someone or something, gross-out jokes become the official language, including a bout of bestiality and the stripping of the Queen of England. There's very little that's sacred in Ali G's world.
There's not much of a narrative flow at work, as scenes transition as needed, with flashbacks and fantasies popping up at any time. Director Mark Mylod, a veteran of British TV, gives the film a definite cartoon feel, or a candy-colored culture clash, as Ali G's brightly-hued costumes draw the eye in every scene he's in. This isn't an award-winning flick in any way, but the fun wordplay and ridiculous situations will make all but the most stone-faced person smile at least a few times. Plus, for the true Ali G fans, Borat from the TV show makes an appearance. There truly is something for everyone in this movie.
Universal has released Ali G: Indahouse in anamorphic widescreen and full-screen on two separate DVDs. This review is of the widescreen edition. The anamorphic widescreen menus are animated, using footage from the movie as transitions between screens. Unlabeled scene selections are available, along with special features and subtitle options. The only audio track is 5.1 English, an understandable choice considering the difficulty in translating Ali's Brit-speak, while subtitles are available in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.
When your main character wears a box of Crayola's-worth of colors in just about every shot, you run the risk of serious video problems. The producers were able to avoid them though, presenting a brightly-colored, but still solid film. There's no evidence of edge enhancement or any shimmering, despite Ali G wearing some of the brightest reds I've ever seen. Aurally, this is one of the most active comedies I've heard, burst right out of the gate with a heavy musical track, with plenty more to come. Music is a key to Ali G's life, so it had to come across crystal clear.
Considering the film is nearly three years old, Universal has had plenty of time to put together a DVD. Instead, it seems that they ported over the extras included on the 2002 UK release. First up is an audio commentary featuring Cohen and Martin Freeman (Ricky C) as their characters from the movie. I would consider myself a Ali G fan, but I could just barely get through this track. The mix is bad, as the actual soundtrack is as loud as the commentary, making the whole event a mumble at times, especially at the beginning, during the pounding music behind the opening titles. Worse is the way they talk, which is very conversational and very British, which, along with the bad mix, makes it very hard to understand. The idea is that Ali G was in the movie about himself, along with Ricky C, and now they are looking back at the movie. This worked for Spinal Tap, but nearly two hours of non-stop Ali G is more than most anyone can handle. Perhaps if it was easier to hear, it would have been more enjoyable.
Deleted scenes and outtakes come next, in one letterboxed, 22-minute bunch, each proceeded by a title card. The whole thing is introduced by Ali G, in his own unique way. As is usually the case, the deleted scenes belonged on the cutting room floor, while the outtakes are rather funny. A video diary, nearly 12-minutes long, follows Ali G around during production, with on-screen narration by the man himself. This is closer to his show, as he talks to plenty of people involved with the movie. There's also a cute, short featurette explaining what Ali G's saying at various points in the film, once again with an Ali G intro. A photo gallery is also included, as well as trailers for the Ali G movie, Ali and Tupac.
The Bottom Line
You've got to be a real fan of Ali G to get through this movie, and even then, you may have trouble. That's not to say there aren't a bunch of real laughs to be had, but the plot is so foreign to American audiences, that there's not much to hang the gangsta parody on. The best parts of his hilarious TV show are his interviews and the reactions he elicits. They don't exist here, making this a completely different animal. Still, it's worth a look.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.