Ali G may be 'Indahouse,' but he's way off the mark

by Nicholas S. Desai | 11/9/04 6:00am

"He iz a criminal! And not even da good type wot deals drugs and does drive-bys," says wannabe British gangster Ali G in his just-released-on-DVD-in-the-USA movie, "Ali G Indahouse." That quote, in reference to a corrupt politician, evokes the best moments of the brilliant HBO (and onetime BBC) TV show.

The show features Sacha Baron Cohen, the talented, Cambridge-educated British comic, posing as a legitimate journalist in the guise of either Ali G, an audaciously-dressed ghetto-pundit from the neighborhood of Staines; Borat, a perverted reporter from Kazakh state television; or Bruno, a vain personality from Austrian gay TV.

The overarching joke of the program was that society, especially when on camera, would excuse ridiculous behavior from minorities, foreigners, gays and teenagers because of its condescendingly low expectations for these groups. Ali, Borat or Bruno could interview some of the world's most visible figures (including Boutros Boutros-Ghali, James Baker, Ralph Nader and Dartmouth's own C. Everett Koop '67), by virtue of politicians' desire to appeal to "youth" or "the international community," and ask ridiculous questions ("Is Disneyland a member of the UN?") that garnered equally stupid answers. This clever intersection of awe-inspiring acting, reality TV and sociology yielded great comedy.

Ali G's first feature film does not revisit these sources of humor. Set in an entirely safe, fictional world, "Indahouse" focuses mostly on scatological jokes and jabs at Ali's inferior intellect. This is unfortunate, because while the show certainly highlighted how sordid and stupid Ali G is, the main humor flowed from the real people's reactions to this ridiculous character. Which is funnier: Ali G pretending to hit on a woman who can't act, or Ali G really getting Pat Buchanan to agree that Iraq may possess "BLTs?"

"Indahouse" provides much in the former vein -- sometimes amusingly, but too often, too graphically and too clumsily. The plot begins as Ali G wins a gun battle with several dozen L.A. gangsters after criticizing a pimp for employing sexist language. Waking from this dream, Ali has some amusing encounters with his lascivious pooch Tupac, his elderly Nana, and the members of his gang, "Da West Staines Massiv."

But corrupt political machinations threaten to disturb Ali's halcyon universe. His beloved community center, where he teaches children how to "keep it real," is to be closed. He decides to chain himself to a fence and go on a hunger strike, which endures until reporters taunt him with chicken nuggets.

Through a consciously- contrived plot mechanism, Ali is forced to run for Staines' seat in the titular House of Commons by a corrupt party official promising to save the center. The party is shocked when their nominee actually wins, having made his opponent admit to a bestiality incident during the debates.

Soon, he's the rising star in his party, appointed to the cabinet and helping the unpopular prime minister (Michael Gambon, who adds relative star power) connect with "da youth." This section shows the most satiric promise, particularly with its depiction of media fawning over youth culture, but it is continually interrupted by scenes featuring base gags. The film unfortunately resorts to the too ubiquitous "joke," wherein the characters smoke a lot of pot and get really high. Still not laughing? Did I mention it was a whole lot of pot? Another skit features Ali passionately kissing the royal hand and then accidentally seeing the Queen's punani. Yes, her punani.

Eventually, Ali saves the prime minister, the party, the community center and Staines itself by way of several revolting and slightly amusing incidents. What's shocking to me is that Cohen and Dan Mazer (the show's producer) wrote the script, which ought to have compensated a little for the hackneyed direction and meager acting. My guess is that this film, released in Britain in 2002, was meant to profit from the cult status that the show had already achieved and nothing more.

The DVD features widescreen aspect ratio, three theatrical trailers, an Ali G dictionary and deleted scenes deserving deletion. The audio commentary and on-the-set video diary are interesting in that they showcase Cohen's impeccable ability to stay in character, but they share the same basic problem with the film, which is that Ali is not nearly as funny among fellow idiots as he is among the unsuspecting powerful and famous. Stick with the HBO series.

DVD courtesy of International DVD & Poster, 44 South Main Street. Open daily.