Sacha Baron Cohen Makes Funny, But Can't Get His Story Straight in 'Bruno'

Courtesy photo

City Pulse | July 2, 2009
Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to the hilarious Borat provokes half as many laughs in a seemingly less improvised comedy that goes twice again as far as Borat in goosing sexual sight gags designed to make even the most numb audience members blanch. Cohen's comic incarnation of Bruno is a flamboyantly gay host of an Austrian television fashion show called "Funkyzeit" from which the self-professed supermodel is fired for his shenanigans at a Milan runway show where his self-made Velcro jumpsuit causes untold destruction. Determined to become "the most famous Austrian superstar since Hitler," Bruno travels to Hollywood to start his own celebrity talk show. An uncomfortable interview with Paula Abdul in an empty house where Mexican immigrant workers sit in as literal furniture leads Bruno to realize that in order to be famous, he must convert to heterosexuality. Along the way, Bruno attempts to seduce politician Ron Paul, seeks advice from an effeminate Christian expert at converting gays into straights, goes on a hunting trip with some Arkansas good ole boys, and auditions irresponsible parents for their babies to act in a movie with his own "adopted" black baby. Some set-ups work better than others, but the film's main failing lies in the contrived character of Bruno, whose Jew-in-a-gay-goy-body tries too hard to provoke the humorous rejection that the character so avidly demands. That said, Sacha Baron Coen picks up where Tom Green left off as cinema's most cunning agent provocateur.

It took four writers (Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, and Jeff Schaffer) to generate the piecemeal skits that loosely connect Bruno's transition from European television commodity to Hollywood interloper. It's a jagged collection of jaw-dropping bits of humor shoved together where a linear story might go. Although the production values are generally higher here, Bruno represents a missed opportunity for Cohen to fine tune an already problematic story form built on Candid Camera styled stunts and awkward interview situations. The bane of modern filmmaking, voice-over narration, is sprinkled around like so much hamburger helper as a way of bringing the audience in on the jokes, but merely serves as a constant reminder of how sloppy the storytelling is.

Director Larry Charles (Borat) throws down the gross-out gauntlet early on with Bruno and his miniature boytoy Diesel (Clifford Bañagal) engaging in accessory-accompanied sodomy with things like champagne bottles, for which only the actors' naughty bits are blacked out. But nothing prepares you for the sample episode of Bruno's Hollywood celebrity talk show for a focus group of L.A. locals. When Bruno's full-screen acrobatic penis begins a dance of lifts and circles before briefly speaking to the camera like a small mouth bass with a ventriloquist, some parents may wish they hadn't brought their pre-teen, or even teen aged, children along. The bawdy humor kicks up a few more notches during Bruno's uncomfortably clothed presence at an actual swingers' party of straights that dips the movie into porno territory even with its strategically placed blacked-out blotches.

The satire is aimed metaphorically at a large slice of America that will do anything for a crack at fame, even if it means a mother giving liposuction to her 30-pound baby to get her kid in a video playing a "Nazi" pushing a "Jewish" baby into a fake oven. That this perceived group might also take more than its share of pride at being "straight" is skewered on a trailer park Bar-B-Q skewer during a caged wrestling match where all it takes is the sight of two men kissing to bring the crowd to a real chair-throwing frenzy. Sacha Baron Cohen's endlessly milked joke is that hypocrisy is funny. To that end he has plenty of ammunition to create plenty more arcane characters assigned to the dirty work of punking every city on the planet. He just needs to improve his storytelling abilities.

(Universal Pictures) Rated R. 82 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)
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