Bruno (2009) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Running Time: 83 min.
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Banagale, Richard Bey, Ron Paul, Miguel Sandoval
Cameo: Bono, Chris Martin, Elton John, Slash, Snoop Dogg, Sting, Paula Abdul, Harrison Ford
Director: Larry Charles
Screenplay: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer
Review published June 21, 2010
The gags do deliver, but they also wear thin in Sacha Baron Cohen's gutsy follow-up to the much more successful Borat, as his film features the same uncomfortable social commentary regarding America and the sometimes alarming attitudes that bubble just underneath the surface. The laughs this time out aren't as consistent and the satirical jabs not as sharp. In fact, the satire can be said to be nearly a complete wash, as the homophobic feelings espoused by the real-life people who are ostensibly not as cognizant they are being filmed guerrilla style get drowned out by the barrage of gay stereotypes that Cohen himself unleashes seemingly without a ceiling with how far he's willing to go to make sure Bruno is the "gayest" person on the planet. Is there much difference between this and having Cohen go in black face to the most racist parts of the country and propagating every outlandish stereotype and antagonizing the natives they may have until they get ornery and hostile?
The character, like Borat, was popularized through Cohen's television show, "Da Ali G Show". Bruno is a self-centered Austrian TV host who loses his job after causing a fiasco at a fashion show. He decides to become a celebrity himself by journeying to America. He tries to break into the celebrity interviewer market by finding real-life celebrities like Paula Abdul to sit for interviews, adopting an African baby (a la Madonna and Angelina Jolie), tries to get kidnapped by terrorists, solve the Middle East conflict, and even gets his anus bleached.
As he did with Borat, Cohen is fearless in going for the big laughs, often putting himself in what surely must be harm's way in order to pull a gag that may or may not even work. One such gag sees Bruno enter into a contest as a UFC fighter named 'Straight Dave', who doesn't even need to cajole the audience much into chanting their pride in being heterosexuals and denouncing the homosexual lifestyle. That's shortly before they witness "Straight" Dave show he is anything but, as Bruno's fictional love interest, his assistant Lutz, also enters the cage and the two go at it (but they don't fight), while the rabid spectators are shocked, repulsed and seemingly grow riotously violent.
That scene is a bit of a standout in terms of its outlandishness, but Bruno suffers because we remember Borat, which raised the bar pretty high, and also had the element of surprise. Cohen paints himself into a corner somewhat because his target is more specific; Borat targeted the very culture of the United States in a broader fashion while Bruno is much more of a one-note attack. Basically, we watch an uber-flamboyant gay man flaunt his sexuality in everyone's face in such a manner that it's likely to be viewed as obscene or tasteless even to those who are gay. More successful are scenes that uncover a disturbing truth, such as an astonishing scene where Bruno attempts to hire a child actor and the overzealous parents will do and say anything in order to get the job, even if it means putting their child in harm's way.
Some scenes are probably funnier to think about than to actually watch. One scene has an obviously clueless Ron Paul, who was one of the more prominent Republicans running for the White House in 2008, interviewed by Bruno in a hotel room when the light is contrived to blow out. He graciously walks and waits in the bedroom with Bruno, who proceeds to make an awkward situation unfathomably uncomfortable by removing clothing and proceeding to block the exit with his impromptu strip tease, in an effort to drum up a scandalous celebrity sex tape. Paul is fuming angry and bolts out of there. While Cohen may get Paul to show some homophobia in the insults he lobs walking out of there, given the unquestionably uncomfortable situation he was in (Cohen was probably willing to go as far as he possibly could while Paul was in the room), one may not like the words he uses, but can completely understand his outrage. If a woman were put in the same situation, I would forgive just about anything that came out of her mouth as she ran like hell out of there. Where is the humor in this?
Although there are a few good guffaws to be had, Cohen's target is too often off screen in order to be deemed a wholly successful satire, and laughs are too absent to proclaim it a wholly satisfying comedy. Bruno sends up gay men and the homosexual lifestyle far more than anything else in the humor, which peters out in their ability to shock early, only sporadically coming to life due to the different locales and situations that emerge, some hilarious and some bordering on upsetting. Perhaps if Bruno would have just been himself (well, as much as a fictional character can be) instead of deliberately goading people to outrage, the film could have proven at least a bit more pleasant, if not funnier, because when you come right down to it, Borat is a likeable character that we enjoy watching, while Bruno, with all of his vanity. mean-spiritedness and sex-offender antics, we don't.
©2010 Vince Leo