[Screen It]

"BRÜNO"
(2009) (Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: After being fired from his job as a fashion reporter, a gay Austrian travels to the United States where he hopes to become famous, including trying to go straight so that he can become a star.
PLOT:
Brüno (SACHA BARON COHEN) is a gay Austrian fashion reporter known for his flamboyant behavior. When he's fired for disrupting a fashion show and after his assistant and flight attendant lover, Diesel (CLIFFORD BANAGALE), leaves him, Brüno sets off for the United States with his new assistant, Lutz (GUSTAF HAMMARSTEN).

Once in America, Brüno sets out to make himself famous however he can, including by "adopting" a young African boy he names O.J. (CHIBUNDU & CHIGOZIE ORUKWOWU). When he realizes he needs to be straight in order to become a Hollywood star, he does what he can to make that happen, including visits to gay to straight conversion specialists, martial arts instructors, and even a swingers' party for tips on being heterosexual.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Nearly anyone can fake laughter, but most everyone can usually identify such behavior as inauthentic. After all, the real thing is usually a spontaneous and involuntary reaction to some outside stimulus or even just the memory or thought of just that.

While most of that stems from things the laugher finds funny in the traditional sense of humor, sometimes chuckles, cackles and full-out guffaws arise in usually improper places (school, business presentations, funerals) or from things the amused person and society in general knows shouldn't be funny, yet nevertheless comes off that way.

Such is certainly the case with the work of Sacha Baron Cohen. Following in the footsteps of the likes of controversial comedians Lenny Bruce and Andy Kaufman, any number of "shock jocks" on the radio, and the outrageous antics of the "Jackass" dudes, the comedian has made a living operating on the edge, first with his TV program, "Da Ali G Show," and then his first feature film stemming from that, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

Considering the wild success that greeted that movie and the actor's complete immersion in the character and the "gotcha" subject matter, it's no surprise that Cohen has returned to that same creative well, this time with Brüno the gay Austrian fashion reporter in the far shorter titled "Brüno."

There are undeniably funny, outrageous and even hilarious moments in the film. Yet, the novelty and yes, even charm that was present the first time around with the Borat character and movie feels more than a bit recycled here.

In that flick, Cohen played a documentary filmmaker from Kazakhstan who travels to the U.S. -- with his trusty sidekick -- to find out what makes America and Americans great. In the process, Cohen and director Larry Charles really set out to point out the misogynist, racist and homophobic tendencies of those the character encountered.

Here, the star and director team up once again with returning scribes Anthony Hines & Dan Mazer & newly added writer Jeff Schaffer to do much of the same, although the majority of the focus this time lies squarely with the homophobic material. Which is something of a shame since Borat and his film were equal-opportunity offenders, spreading the attack all around and thus not running the risk of getting too repetitive (in terms of who and what was being skewered).

The anti-Semitic material was softened in that film due to Cohen being Jewish, but as he's engaged in real life to the lovely Isla Fisher, the approach and intent here feels a little more suspect, what with his flamboyant, "swishy," and hyper-sexualized gay characterization. The point, one guesses, is that such extremes are present to bring out the worst in those he's "punked," but this time more than last everything feels a bit more calculated and possibly staged to an even greater extent.

Accordingly, and with a few exceptions such as an interview with politician Ron Paul and the grand finale (that could also be faked -- you just never know with these sorts of shock comedians), the question of what's real and what's staged lingers throughout the film's fairly short (less than 90 minute) runtime.

A few other topics are addressed, such as parents who will do anything to get their kids, and thus themselves, into the entertainment biz, as well as the over-hyped trappings of the fashion world. Perhaps Cohen blew his cover too many times before for any sort of decent, leftover ambushes in the realm of the latter, but there's a surprising shortage of that particular material.

Whatever the case, we're mostly left with all of the gay stuff, including visits to gay to straight conversion specialists and a martial arts instructor to learn how to defend oneself from gays (when Bruno's character decides to go straight to become an actor). There are also various views of his male member during a scene featuring a focus group watching his show), spending some time with ruggedly straight hunters, and a swingers' party.

The latter provides as many laughs as the rest of the material (not to mention the need for big black boxes superimposed over the sexual encounters to keep the film out of the realm of NC-17, although it's still plenty close with what's left there and elsewhere). But one can't escape the "been there, seen/heard/experienced that before" feeling that pervades the offering as it's basically just "Borat" in gay attire.

I'm not particularly proud of what I ended up laughing at as it's undeniable offensive and outrageous in all sorts of ways (viewer response will vary wildly, just like last time), but that's the very nature of laughter -- it erupts whenever and wherever it wants. Good for some big belly laughs as long you don't mind the material, but proving that Cohen needs to move on to a new format for whatever his next round of sensationalistic and controversial comedy might be, "Bruno" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed July 7, 2009 / Posted July 10, 2009


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