July 14, 2009 by Zack
Sascha Baron Cohen just loves to mess with people. I think my whole review could actually be that one line, and that would suffice as an accurate, detailed depiction of what to expect with this film; or most of what he does, in fact. Cohen did this in 2006 with “Borat”, which was a “great success”; and now he hopes he can redeliver the goods using another persona from his acclaimed (and very funny) show “Da Ali G Show”–this time, the Austrian homosexual fashion zealot, Brüno. Are you prepared for male nudity? Guys, buckle up. It’s a long ride if you aren’t.
The plot of the film, much like in “Borat”, is very thin. The whole basis of the film rides on Brüno getting famous in any way he can. And he tries just about everything you can do–but first and foremost, he must get to America. He takes along his lapdog assistant and goes through some great lengths in order to realize his dream to become famous. He even adopts a black baby and takes him on “Today with Richard Bey”. I didn’t know Bey was still on the air, to be honest. In any event, Brüno has some wild misadventures trying to get into the spotlight: he gets an agent to help him launch a reality-talk interview show and actually gets a test audience to screen the show, and they subsequently watch his “package” dangle for a little bit (even talk to them), and watch him “dance” while they get one second of an “interview” with Harrison Ford. In one of the funniest moments of the film, he tries to “seduce” Ron Paul into his room in order to make a “sex tape” that can be circulated around the internet.
When his dreams of fame fail, he tries to do anything he can to get back on the horse. He even tries to turn straight. He goes to a gay converter, and he tries to go hunting with some real men (another funny sequence, if a bit played out); he also goes to a swinger’s party–and this was where the film impressed me most. Not because of how far he went, but because I could not believe the MPAA allowed what pretty much was porno right on the big screen, in a summer movie. Genius!
This is kind of the greatness and weakness of the film, and I was even a bit distracted by the somewhat slow pacing. Because there wasn’t a real plot, you were just watching Brüno do crazy things. And, to me, there seemed to be a bit more culture and depth in “Borat”. How many jokes can you make about rednecks and fundamentalists? The joke seemed to be wearing thin quicker in this film than in previous Cohen offerings. Another thing was that while Borat has an assuming charm about him; Brüno is not very likable. He is brash, and he’s very stupid in an unengaging way. He’s just vapid and superficial. With Borat it seems to be more of the language barrier and culturual barrier that separates him from any normal person. But Brüno just seems out of it. I know that’s part of the joke, but if you’re going to give us 90 minutes of the guy, I think he should at least be somewhat sympathetic. And because he’s flamboyant, and obnoxious, the homosexuality seems to become more of the joke than anything else, and again, that wears thin as well. We get it. He’s gay. We get it. Homophobes are uncomfortable around it. Yes, can you make something else out of this now? Or can we move on?
Perhaps I’m nitpicking–this film has some uproarious moments, too. It’s also very shocking at times, sometimes outdoing “Borat”. And I did look into the goings on to see what was staged and what was natural. A lot of it does check out. But I really wonder how much deeper Cohen wants to take this. I’m hoping this is his last venture into this kind of film. He is a very clever satirist and a very good actor and writer–I think he can do much better things now. I know this will make him more money, and it’s what the people want; but I’d like to see him really extend himself for his next film, should he continue making them.