If you liked Borat, Punk’d and Scare Tactics, you’re sure to get the most out of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new in-your-face (literally, flopping penis and all) comedy Brüno. I have to give Cohen and director Larry Charles huge credit for pulling off what they did with Brüno, given how omnipresent Borat made its star. It can’t have been easy finding people to hoodwink into interacting with the flamboyant Austrian wannabe superstar.
That’s Brüno’s failing as a film, though. Borat, for all its gross-out hilarity, hit American targets far and wide in fully-realized vignettes of often brilliant construction. Brüno, on the other hand, succeeds mostly because the rednecks and zealots he interviews don’t kill him. It’s hard to watch Brüno and not feel that they just weren’t able to get the shots they wanted, especially when Cohen heads to Israel to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians and is chased through the street for his Orthodox Jewish outfit mated with hot pants.
Brüno is an Austrian fashion and style reporter who is unceremoniously fired for wrecking a fashion show with his all-Velcro suit. He goes on a quest to find fame and fortune in America any way he can. Aided by his AWOL assistant’s assistant, a ginger-haired puppy dog named Lutz, Brüno tries to adopt an African baby, host a celebrity talk show (where half the pilot is Brüno dancing and close-ups on the aforementioned dancing penis, who at one point bellows “Brüno!” at top voice) and finally to go straight for fame.
Brüno feels more heavy-handed and staged, and the comic payoffs are not as gut-busting as that crazy Kazakh, Borat. Still, there are a lot of scenes in Brüno that are so hilariously wrong, it’s worth seeing just for the reactions. Watch the appalled cage fight fans of Arkansas react when the supposedly ex-gay Brüno starts fighting a surprise opponent, only to end up stripping and making out with the guy.
Of course, Brüno is a terrible stereotype, but Cohen isn’t a homophobe by any means. He gets Ron Paul to call him a “queer”, exposes ex-gay pastors as either a deluded closet case or a misogynistic boor, and sometimes even breaks out of the gay humor box to expose fringe stage parents willing to let their toddlers play Nazis, Roman guards and crucified thieves next to a similarly “mounted” baby Jesus.
Part of the fun of Brüno is watching the more homophobic audience members who, expecting another Borat, have to witness things they never want to see and waiting for their heads to explode. The finale brings together a star-studded cast of good-natured celebrities and sends you out singing a really bad charity anthem.
UPDATE: Brüno is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.