Borat was always going to be a tough act to follow, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s second all-out assault on decency and decorum feels a little anti-climactic, even if there are still half a dozen sequences you’ll be talking about the next day.
I suspect you already know Brüno is a flamboyantly homosexual Viennese fashionista who high-tails it to the USA to become Austria’s most famous export since Adolf Hitler.
Unsuccessful stabs at vörld domination include acting (he’s fired from a bit part as a juror on The Medium), a celebrity interview show, a sex tape with Presidential candidate Ron Paul, and a humanitarian intervention to broker peace in “Middle Earth”.
Deterred by these abject failures, Brüno works out that maybe he’s the problem and straightens himself out with the counsel of two Evangelical “gay converters”, a short stint in the US Army, and a trip to a swingers’ party.
No one who saw Borat will have forgotten the nude wrestling scene – no matter how hard you may have tried. There’s more skin on display here. Brüno is inordinately proud of his cheeks, and an animated in-your-face penis shot will sort out the men from the boys. A romantic montage celebrating Brüno’s love life with a diminutive Filipino is probably as close to gay-porn as most heteros are going to get.
Brüno is not what queer activists would call a positive role model. An egomaniac obsessed with fame, fashion and sex, he’s your homophobe’s gay stereotype. The Austrian accent only makes it vörse. Like Borat, he probes the limits of his interviewees’ civility, but this probably tells us more about Sacha Baron Cohen’s compulsion to shock than it does about them. Yes, it’s funny when he takes a black baby on a daytime TV show and tells the African-American studio audience he’s named the kid “OJ”, but their outrage is understandable.
On this evidence it’s not easy testing taboos in 2009. Wherever Brüno turns he seems to be following in someone else’s footsteps. A hunting trip with the gun lobby? Michael Moore did that. Peace talks in Israel? That was Morgan Spurlock. Gay converters? Didn’t director Larry Charles already go there with Bill Maher in last year’s Religulous? Meanwhile his love-hate relationship with his assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) only highlights how similar the new film’s trajectory is to Borat.
Unlike the Kazakh, or indeed Ali G, Brüno doesn’t get much out of his subjects. Even B list celebrities seem wised up these days. Paula Abdul is coaxed into sitting on a Mexican as she chats about her humanitarianism, but even she skitters soon enough. Brüno visits a spiritualist and communes orally with Milli Vanilli… we may admire SBC’s mimetic skills, but wind up sympathizing with the spiritualist who suffers this in silence and sends him on his way with a curt Good luck.
Some sketches do hit closer to home. A series of interviews with stage moms and dads who blithely sign up their babies to work with hornets, wasps, dead or dying animals, antiquated heavy machinery and sundry toxic substances is a bone fide jaw-dropper. And the elaborate situationist stunt by which Brüno ultimately achieves the fame he craves does something to validate his transgressive tactics, finally nailing the gay-bashers where it hurts.
A mixed bag, then: very funny in patches, occasionally shocking, but underwhelming as a whole.
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