Bruno: Sacha Baron Cohen shoots fish in a barrel
Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest exercise in the self-made genre of comedy-by-humiliation is Bruno, a fitfully hilarious, occasionally shocking, intermittently embarrassing and totally crude follow-up to his smash of a few years ago, Borat. Bruno, as you’ve probably heard by now, is a gay Austrian cable TV host who embarks on a sojourn to the United States after his career as a European fashion show gate crasher comes to an ignominious end.What is he searching for? Celebrity status, natch, the only worthy pursuit in this land of shallow hipsters, racist hicks, and willing stooges weaned on reality shows and Rush Limbaugh. Cohen’s Bruno, like his Borat, gets a lot of comic mileage and easy yucks out of these patsies, and, like Borat, much of the fun of this film is in seeing how far Cohen is willing to bend the boundaries of good taste and his own safety in his jones for the juicy shock. But Cohen begins his movie with a lazy, formless montage that doesn’t endear us to Bruno or his quest. What follows is a lot of You Tube quality sketches that have very little to do with homophobia, racism, extremism, or intolerance, which were a few of the buzzwords being tossed around in the media to amp up publicity for this movie.
Some of the gags here are too soaked in ridicule to register any insight and many others simply fall flat, especially a fake interview with former presidential candidate Ron Paul, and a similar episode with Middle Eastern political representatives. It’s hard to tell what Bruno or Cohen’s point is with some of these set-ups, other than the fact that he faked out a few people too busy or bored to do a background check on the guy. The more squeamish bits pack shock value, but the frequent cutaways to the poor saps caught off-guard by Bruno only make you as embarrassed as they are. And there are several sex scenes which are meant to push the boundaries of the movie’s R-rating, including a full frontal shot of Bruno’s male member that I guess the ratings board found hilarious, and harmless, since nearly everyone in the theater, including me, looked away when it flopped around on screen. When Bruno hooks up with a house full of spouse-swapping swingers, Cohen’s editors black out the genitalia on display, but it’s easy enough to get the idea. That sequence turns truly scary when a dominatrix begins whipping our near naked tour guide until, fearing for the future of his movie, he leaps out a window, followed by his sprinting cameraman.
That omnipresent camera is, to my eyes at least, Cohen’s most troublesome element in this movie. Borat had a reason for a camera crew to be trailing him--he was making a documentary for his TV audience back home in Kazakhstan, which helped suspend our disbelief that unsuspecting people would fall for his shams. But Bruno/Cohen never really explains why a camera is around for every scene. This led me to suspect that either a few of his encounters were staged, especially a dumb skit with the National Guard, or Cohen had to scrape the utter bottom of the gene pool to find his cast of clueless morons. If so, then Bruno is making fun of the borderline retarded, which is not funny, but it is sad.
Sacha Baron Cohen is a one-of-a-kind actor, a gifted mimic, and a brave comedian. I also think he is smart enough to know that the gig is up on this kind of crass candid camera character, shooting ignorant fish in a barrel.