BRÜNO(director: Larry Charles; screenwriters: Sacha Baron Cohen/Anthony Hines; cinematographers: Anthony Hardwick/Wolfgang Held; editor: Scott M. Davids; music: Erran Baron Cohen; cast: Sacha Baron Cohen (Bruno), Gustaf Hammarsten (Lutz), Clifford Bañagale (Diesel); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Monica Levinson/Sacha Baron Cohen/Dan Mazer/Jay Roach; Universal Pictures; 2009-UK)
“The pic is all about Cohen goofing on others he feels superior to.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Guerrilla film director Larry Charles follows up his success of the bad taste comedy “Borat” (2006) with the same writer/star Sacha Baron Cohen, the Cambridge-educated Brit, in a new situation with an old HBO character he revisits named Brüno. It follows the same crude misanthropic comedy line as before, but is even more outlandish as it takes aim at not only goofing on with a certain meanness today’s pop-culture phenomena scene, outrageously lampooning homosexuality, deriding the intolerant for their homophobia, celebs who need their own cause, the vacuous who worship celebrities and ugly Americans who would sell their soul or own kids for fame or material goods. Cohen stays in character throughout as the flamboyant disgraced queer TV fashion journalist Brüno, from Austria, who is in a world-wide search to become a wealthy celebrity and arrives in America to realize his dream.
Most of it is low-brow comedy, going for cheap laughs at the expense of making fun at the ambushed chosen targets so they will look dumb and viewers will laugh at them. There are also an assortment of gay dildo, anal bleaching and bondage gags, and a continuous dumping on a stereotyped image of Brüno as a too obvious queer obsessed with fashion, fame and fortune.
Cohen’s wit has guts, showing that he’s not afraid to put himself in harm’s way just to get a laugh. In Jerusalem he strolls through a Hasidic neighborhood dressed in some derogatory gay Hasidic garb with hot pants and gets chased by an angry Jewish mob. There’s an interview with a menacing Lebonese terrorist, where Brüno makes fun of the way Osama bin Laden looks and doesn’t stop till removed from the interview room. In the Arkansas woods, Brüno poses for a redneck audience in a fight-club cage (with barbwire atop it) as the macho Straight Dave, who believes in “straight pride,” and after riling up the audience to hate gays ends up in a homosexual embrace with his countryman assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) that gets the audience ready to take off his head and provides unfunny strained humor.
The humor throughout was stupid and crass but Cohen seemed so daring to go to such lengths to possibly get a laugh, that you might not respect what he did but you almost feel like applauding him for pushing the envelope so far.
The pic is all about Cohen goofing on others he feels superior to, which creates more sympathy for the put upon foils than some of the more hypercritical ones deserve. The vics include: Paula Abdul, flaunting that she’s a humanitarian while tricked into sitting on a Mexican worker as if he were a piece of furniture; Congressman Ron Paul, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, who seemingly would do almost anything for media coverage except get hit upon by a fag, storms out of the hotel room in an unfunny seduction bit that made Cohen look like the fool; two fundamentalist Christian counselors who specialize in turning gay men straight and act rigid with hardly any love for anyone but themselves, are tricked into giving the insincere Brüno advice; a white Dallas talk-show host, Richard Bey, of a Springer-like reality program with a mostly African-American interactive audience, who would put any crap on the air to get ratings, has Brüno talk about his adoption of a black child, O.J., in Africa, a child Brüno got when he swapped his iPod and now uses as a “dick magnet”– this adoption gets the audience deeply upset; a psychic who pretends he can arrange for his clients to converse with those in heaven, gives way to Brüno miming a blow job to his departed loved one Milli of Milli Vanilli (the film’s funniest bit); a TV focus group for a pilot show on celebrities that is in shock that Brüno exposes his penis and wiggles it around as he dances; and various other mostly juvenile gags the gay Brüno springs on his unsuspecting straight vics.
The one-note comedy has Brüno as a pushy swish, who tries to show in a Candid-Camera way that everyone he meets is operating on an even lower-level than his low-life character and that he has the ability to get under their skin because they’re all hypocrites. The problem is he has nothing to offer to show he’s better than those he is cruelly mocking. He got away with that shameless act in Borat, but the act is becoming tired as the novelty has worn off. The man has gone to the well once too often with the same gag and this time comes up mostly dry. Though I think the film is both unsettling and entertaining (especially for those who are not looking for anything more than a chance to laugh at anything, and are not worried about being PC or offending any sacred cows). But I didn’t find it provocative or did I think it had much social value as a crude attempt at Swiftian satire. There undoubtedly still will be a large audience for this kind of insulting shock humor, who find this over-the-top crass characterization hilarious. Cohen swings from being repulsive to compelling, in a film that’s fast-paced, energetic and never boring. If you think those bits I described above could be funny, be my guest and see how this outrageous comedy shoots only from its dick. For others, be warned this obnoxious act of Cohen’s is wearing thin and the real joke might be on the audience that keeps buying into this somewhat annoying routine.
REVIEWED ON 7/13/2009 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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