Dir: Larry Charles
Sacha Baron Cohen returns with Brüno, his much-anticipated follow-up to Borat about a gay, Austrian fashionista who travels the globe to become a star. While Cohen’s intentions are noble (turning our own homophobia into a comedy where the homophobes come off as the idiots), the execution is lazy, sloppy and sometimes even boring. In an age where gay marriage is banned even in states such as California, Cohen must have intended his film to go off like a Roman orgy and in some ways the onslaught of man-on-man graphicness is an intelligent way to defuse the don’t-ask-don’t-tell nature of homosexuality in this country. Unfortunately, Brüno comes off like the runty nephew of Borat, and the shock value of its jokes are blunted by a been-there-done-that ennui that surrounds the film.
Cohen treads a fine line with this picture. While Borat served as a catalyst for the outlandish behavior of others, Brüno, being a flaming homosexual, is the actual object that inspires derision from the rednecks and trailer trash that Cohen and director Larry Charles expose to him. Much like Charles’ Religulous, Brüno goes after much-too-easy targets. Maybe it’s because Cohen achieved too much fame in Borat, but as Brüno follows his dream to become world famous he traipses across gay conversion experts from the South, a Dallas talk show no one’s ever heard of, a group of swingers (again in the Deep South) and Ron Paul.
Most of the funniest moments of Brüno are not found in these uncomfortable scenes. While Cohen used Borat to let his subjects feel safe and expose their natural prejudices, Brüno does little more than cause the people he encounters to recoil in disgust. No, the best moments came in the extreme (and scripted) graphic humor such as Brüno’s use of a man-powered dildo machine or the disastrous talk show pilot he creates, complete with talking penis. If it sounds like the premise is thin, that’s because it is. While Borat at least had the impetus of meeting Pamela Anderson to propel him across the world, Brüno’s travels come off as an episodic patchwork of scenes rather than a focused narrative.
Brüno also succeeds when it skewers the hysteria and insanity surrounding celebrity culture. A few celebs do make scripted appearances, but a scene involving Paula Abdul is absolutely hilarious and politically timely. Cohen wisely stays away from mocking the insipid fashion world. There really isn’t too much to ridicule and the one supermodel he does interview comes off as vapid as expected. Instead, he takes aim at the trappings of the celebrity, such as a priceless sequence where he “adopts” an African baby (aka swaps for an iPod), dresses the child up in a “Gayby” T-shirt and trots the child out onto a talk show with an all African-American audience. Sure, it’s an obvious swipe at Madonna and Angelina, but it’s funny.
Unfortunately, the majority of the film provides nervous chuckles rather than the intended flat-out laughter. Charles and Cohen would have benefited from re-focusing on the most incendiary and political bits of the film. Brüno finally collapses under its own weight with an all-star sing-along reminiscent of those “I’m Fucking Matt Damon” videos. What made Borat a priceless confection, unfortunately, kills off the best bits of Brüno. Cohen and Charles go for broke, but ultimately come up empty.