Review: Brüno

The Thinker by Rodin

In January 2008, I reviewed Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and labeled it the funniest movie I had ever seen. So obviously, I would be a candidate for Baron Cohen’s latest movie Brüno, right? My wife was not interested in going, but fortunately my daughter’s taste in humor mirrors my own, so we spent $10 a ticket to see it during prime time last night.

The peculiar thing about viewing Brüno is that while it was very funny and offensive, it felt like I had seen it before. In fact, if you have seen Borat, it will seem very familiar. Borat is a flaming heterosexual deeply concerned about the importance of large penis sizes, Jews and Gypsies. Brüno is a flaming homosexual from Austria concerned about neck scarves. Borat comes to America to report on American life for Kazakhstan. Brüno comes to America when his career goes bust. Borat has an emotionally dependent sidekick named Azamat. Brüno has an emotionally dependent assistant to his assistant named Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten). Borat chases the celebrity Pamela Anderson. Brüno chases a number of Hollywood celebrities in an attempt to restart his career. Azamat leaves Borat all alone after a stormy scene. Brüno jilts Lutz, leading to a stormy separation. Borat visits a California church in order to find Jesus. Brüno talks to some Christians who try to turn him away from homosexuality.

In short, the character may be different but the formula Baron Cohen rode to success with in Borat has largely been replicated in Brüno. That is not to say that Brüno is not a damned funny movie, it just not quite as funny because you have sort of seen this movie from him before. It suggests that while Baron Cohen is milking this moviemaking style for all its worth, that it is heading toward a brick wall and when it hits it will no longer be funny. What will he do for an encore when this stuff is no longer funny but just formulaic?

The movie is high on anyone’s outrage meter. One can laugh at this movie and still feel intensely uncomfortable watching it. Many of the scenes try too hard to reach beyond outrageous. I would think even flaming homosexuals would be offended by some of these scenes because they reduce homosexuality to a crude and outrageous stereotype which I suspect is indicative of only a tiny percent of homosexual relationships. Anyhow, if you think watching Brüno get an anal bleaching if funny, this movie is for you.

Congressman Ron Paul is one of many celebrities (including Paula Abdul) who become unknowing members of Baron Cohen’s cast. It is hard to draw the line sometimes on which scenes are real and which are faked. A black baby that Brüno supposedly imports from Africa in a cargo crate (in exchange for an iPod) is obviously faked. A scene in a Dallas talk show is probably real but is the social worker at the end of the scene real or fake? What about those scenes where mothers of baby actors agree their baby would have no trouble being filmed on a crucifix or covered in bees? What about his scene with the dominatrix, since the window conveniently gives out and the cameraman is adept enough to follow?

Regardless, there is plenty to laugh at and much of it is beyond outrageous. Yet, after seeing Borat, Brüno still feels anticlimactic. If Baron Cohen follows this format in his next movie, I am probably going to give it a miss. It will feel overplayed.

Like with Borat, I find it hard to rate this movie, but if you liked Borat you will probably also like Brüno, but probably not as much because the novelty has worn off a bit. Let’s hope Sacha Baron Cohen can find new and inventive ways to entertain us in the future. I think he has traveled down this road about as far as he can. I am not sure how this movie got an R rating. It deserved an NC-17.

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