It’s impossible to review Sacha Baron Cohen’s films—Ali G Indahouse, Borat and now, Brüno—without first describing his trademarked brand of humor. His wild style of social commentary rides the thin line between bad taste and very bad taste. It’s also frequently very funny in a squirm-inducing way. The set-up is simple. In character he elicits embarrassing, often racist or downright inane reactions from people not in on the joke, and as un-pc as the results of these interviews are, he is simply using irreverent, ambush comedy to hold a mirror up to society.
His guerilla modus operandi is guaranteed to ruffle a few feathers—he’s been sued by some of his unwitting subjects for everything from libel to slander, invasion of privacy, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligent infliction of emotional distress and more—but I guess that’s the price he’s pays for exposing human foibles.
Brüno is another exposé. Where Borat gave us an inside look at bigotry and Western hypocrisy, the ulterior motive lurking just beneath the fake eyelashes and chaps of Brüno is an unveiling of homophobia.
Like Borat the set-up for Bruno involves a television reporter coming to America. In this case it’s Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen), a campy fame-seeking fashionista who wants to be “the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler.” When his Austrian TV show is axed (“For the second time the world had turned its back on Austria’s most famous man.”) he goes on an outrageous quest for fame that sees him try to negotiate peace in the Middle East, make a sex tape with Presidential hopeful Ron Paul, get involved with a charity which “doesn’t require much effort” and adopt an African baby. When those labors lead nowhere he has an epiphany; reasoning that all the greatest stars in Hollywood are straight, he opts for gay “deprogramming.” Along the way he meets a martial arts teacher who compares gays to terrorists, a wild group of swingers and others until he takes one last shot at fame as Straight Dave, host of a Man Slammin’ Max Out Ultimate Fighting and “Straight Pride” television show based in Arkansas.
For those fearing that fame may have dulled Baron Cohen’s edge, I can tell you it hasn’t. Bruno is chock-a-block with OMG!! moments—by that I mean those “Oh my God I can’t believe he just did that” moments—but as funny as the movie is there are more cringe worthy gags than actual funny jokes. His jab about finding the next Darfur, “maybe Dar-five” is smart and funny, but his long conversation about it with the two emptiest headed publicists ever, isn’t. Other gags have a been-there-done-that feel. The Velcro suit and Dallas talk show stunts are funny but ruined by over exposure in trailers and ads.
That’s not to day there isn’t lots to laugh at—Baron Cohen is the most fearless comics working today or maybe ever—but Bruno is ultimately less satisfying than Borat. It feels more episodic, more mean spirited and more staged than its successful cousin.
Bruno will amuse most, enrage some—one man stormed out of the screening I was at yelling, “This is the stupidest thing ever!”—and offend many, often all at the same time, but despite some advance press the gay community has little to fear.
The gay stereotypes presented in the film are so over-the-top it is hard to imagine anyone taking them seriously and even though this extremely silly movie has a serious mission—to expose homophobia—the last thing it wants is to be taken seriously.
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