Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Bañagale
Directed by: Larry Charles (“Borat”)
Written by: Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”), Anthony Hines (“Borat”), Dan Mazer (“Borat”), and Jeff Schaffer (“EuroTrip”)
There’s no denying the devotion Sacha Baron Cohen exhibits when he transforms into one of the satirical characters he made famous in the U.K. and then later on HBO. Whether you are a fan of his streetwise poser Ali G, his socially-awkward Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev, or his homosexual Austrian character Brüno, Cohen is doing the most nervy comedy routines in recent film history.
In “Brüno,” Cohen’s follow-up to his hilariously over-the-top 2006 mockumentary “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” the British comedian takes his sometimes shocking antics to places you have to see to believe. During the process, he creates extremely uncomfortable scenarios that will leave you squeamish if they’re not making you keel over in laughter some of the time.
In case you’re not familiar with Brüno, he is a flamboyant gay model/host of an Austrian TV show called “Funkyzeit.” Brüno’s career tailspins when there is a mishap on the fashion runway, which leads to his firing. Although he is distraught, Brüno sees his dismissal from the show as an opportunity to do something else. Thus, he packs his bags with designer clothes and moves to Los Angeles with his assistant’s assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) to become Hollywood’s next big star.
Like in “Borat,” no one within a few hundred feet of Baron Cohen is safe in “Brüno.” It’s really difficult, however, to believe some of the places the actor is able to infiltrate as a fictitious fashionista. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that most people in foreign countries (other than Kazakhstan) probably don’t know who he is, but why didn’t anyone in Paula Abdul’s entourage do a little research to find out who exactly she was sitting down with for an interview? And why does a scene where Brüno trains in the military feel like a skit instead of a realistic situation?
Still, with every scene that could possibly be simulated or that just isn’t funny (a joke about hummus and Hamas is ridiculous as is an African-American baby joke that fizzles out), there’s one that feels entirely too real. In one such scene, Baron Cohen fakes a technical difficulty during an interview with U.S. Congressman Ron Paul so he can get him to come into a bedroom at a hotel to wait until the lighting problem is fixed. During the scene, Brüno attempts to seduce Paul with wine, music and a strip tease before the Texas Republican storms out of the room wondering what the hell is going on.
In “Brüno,” the jaw-dropping moments like this far outweighed the actual humor the movie delivers. Where “Borat” was a quasi-sociological experiment with a bigger agenda, “Brüno” feel more like a reason to let Baron Cohen see how far he can push the rating system. “Bruno” is rated R. Without some of the censorship black boxes the Motion Picture Association of America probably demanded for Universal Pictures to use, the film could have easily received an even more adult rating (we’re not talking about NC-17 either).
Whether you care for full frontal male nudity or not, “Brüno” definitely has its moments. It’s the portions of the film that feel less stagey that illustrate the true brilliance and sickness of Baron Cohen. Still, “Brüno” feels more like something Steve-O from “Jackass” could have done if he had more talent than just stapling things to his scrotum. For his skill to humiliate and horrify, Baron Cohen deserves credit. But there’s a better movie in him after he retires his entire fleet of familiar roles.