One day, a lack of fossil fuels, the Internet, real WMDs, evolution, and leaders of extremist fronts will collectively and progressively tear apart and then unify the world, to the point of anonymity becoming an abstract thought. Until then, Sacha Baron Cohen still has a billion people or so whose double-digit brain cells readily exploit themselves with the slightest of provocations. I'll grant you Brüno's titular character is anything but slight, but these worldwide citizens prove that he really doesn't have to be. Peace and irony are two ideas that escape far too many.
Brüno is a lone man's ascension up the twisted, rickety steps to fame and wide-range acceptance, and it also doubles as a tawdry paperback romance between a rising star and his nebbish assistant. (And I have a bit of oceanfront property that sits just at the end of a rainbow, if you're into such things.) Brüno is a fashionista who spends more time removing his clothes than talking about them, flamboyantly inciting homophobia amongst the close-minded. This is not a movie where the plot works with mechanical proficiency; involved is a clip of a penis swinging like a tetherball. It has angered many, and will anger many more in its lifespan. It panders, shines unwarranted light on biases, degrades ideals, and doesn't ooze moral positivity, or a feasible story, during its hour and 20 minutes. For better or worse, that's exactly why this movie got more honest guffaws out of me than most comedies do. I don't typically enjoy seeing people make fools of themselves or others, nor am I a believer that anyone with a camera is a comedian. But that's when it's not put on by artistes like Cohen and Larry Charles, and when people aren't supposed to be in on the joke. One look at Brüno wearing anything from his closet of circus chic and it should be clear that something is amiss. One of the film's purposes is to show the extent of what people will put up with to be on camera, and it excels there.
The first half hour of Brüno is a flurry of hullabaloo, both setting the familiar "fiction or reality?" tone and matching my laugh count for the first half hour of Tropic Thunder. All of the good bits in the movie are set up by the trailers, but even those ruined moments are surrounded by constant hilarity. Brüno hits the self-indulgent fashion week at Milan and is almost immediately blacklisted by many events in the area, though it doesn't prevent a number of glitches and awkward moments. One interview with a generic supermodel shows us just how hard being beautiful is, and of course there's the Velcro Suit, a genius stroke for sure. Brüno is fired from his reporting job, and his pygmy lover Diesel (Clifford Bañagale) leaves him for another, but not before an extremely over-the-top sex scene between the two. Clever use of censor circles and a Wile E. Coyote contraption make this an exercise in cartoonish vulgarity, a theme flaunted throughout the film. Brüno finds a new love story in assistant Lutz (Hammarsten), and oddly enough, their "relationship" is a shade more believable than some of the actual antics filmed. Hammarsten's underperformance complements Cohen's attention hogging. Look, I know it's not realistic, but beat for beat, it plays better than 90% of Matthew McConaughey's film career.
From here, Brüno focuses on finding fame, which generally involves grossing others out. He finds a real agent (Lloyd Robinson) to help him along the way, an agent who isn't too pleased with the things Brüno does while taking phone calls. Brüno gets an audition on NBC's Medium, in one of those stunts ruined months ahead of time by over-coverage. It's still funny to see the actors get riled up at having to do take after ruined take. Brüno also presents his version of a celebrity talk show to a network focus group, and I don't want to give away whether he gets the show or not, but this is where the swinging penis comes in. Most of the celebrities and people of note that Brüno shares words with are unwittingly alienated, though some, like Ron Paul, are victimized rather than befittingly humiliated.
Brüno decides to front a popular cause and decides to mend ties between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, even going so far as singing two leaders a pantomimed song about peace, which is by far the funniest thing nearest the halfway point. The middle third isn't as fall-down funny as the rest, and I'm not sure if it's because the stunts are more evocative than witty, or if the senses are simply numbed by that point. Regardless, it's still full of fun. Brüno gets positive reactions from selfish parents to such questions as, "Is your baby comfortable with bees and wasps?" and, "Would you be willing to use liposuction on your baby to lose the extra weight?" At least the footage will survive as long as it takes for these children to grow up and watch their parents trade couth for cash. Anyway, it's here that Brüno gets his African-American baby and flaunts him at the airport and on a staged Richard Bey show, both heavily used in promos. After the baby is taken away from him, Brüno gets depressed, eats a lot of carbs, and decides the best way to become famous is to be a straight guy, and this is where things ramp up again, though the actual stunts and subject matter are dumbed down. Two closeted "gay converters" try to help Brüno see the errors in his homosexual ways. Brüno visits the army, takes on a "God Hates Fags" rally, and pisses off an entire redneck crowd after they get some PDA rather than the MMA expected. He also walks around gaily during a swingers' party, finding himself whipped by a half-nude porn star by the end of it. The movie ends without an actual ending, but with a rather surprising group of guests coming together for Brüno's cause.
All in all, it's a funnier movie than it has any right to be, though it helps that I'm harder to offend than a brick wall. Cohen is flawless as usual in his role. and the few moments when the actor breaks character are in-joke gems. The character has since been retired, but his only feature-length effort was a positive one, and will remain edgy even as people's prejudices round out. Look for Jamie Kennedy to star in the remake in 2019.
The Brüno DVD has the pleasurable distinction of having extras that are often funnier than the feature itself. Obviously a large bulk of material was edited down to make the film work, but an entirely separate film could be made from the deleted footage. It's worth mentioning that certain bits shown in the promotional run are nowhere to be found, which is kind of disappointing, but I'm sure there will be some release or another down the line that incorporates them.
First, though, is one of the better DVD commentaries to ever accompany a comedy film. Sacha Cohen and director Larry Charles walk the viewer through most of their process, from gag preparation to the innumerous setbacks keeping them from doing things as planned. Luckily, it's an "enhanced" commentary, which means that the guys simply pause the movie whenever an explanation may drag into a different sequence, and it works wonderfully. Many hilarious facts are shared that may have otherwise lost out to time issues. All told, the commentary is about 20 minutes longer than the actual film.
There are over an hour of deleted materials. The "alternate" scenes include Pete Rose in place of Paula Abdul for the "sit on and eat sushi off a Mexican" scene. It's an extremely bizarre choice of celebrity, but it’s great because he gets a lot more hot-headed than Abdul. Also, there are former high-ranking officials in differing versions of the scene with Ron Paul. Good stuff, especially when Tom Ridge takes about 10 seconds to bullshit his appreciation to Brüno for having him. The "extended" scenes include some with the attempted wedding between Brüno and Lux, as well as a few others.
But the "deleted" scenes are the best, because they're plentiful and full of awkwardness and a white supremacist. A big part of it involves a cut storyline where Brüno tries to get onto a local Texas news show. He interviews with the execs and news team (who are way more relaxed than I would have been), and then he makes a tryout video that is much more rewarding seen rather than described. I'm guessing this would have taken the place of the "Focus Group" scenes in the theatrical cut, but there were legal issues involved. There's more stuff with the "dollar signs for eyes" parents, and more examples of what they would do to their kids for money. As a final extra, there's an entertaining interview with Lloyd Robinson, who holds no grudges about being made to look like a fool.
And there you have it. It's a movie that doesn't carry the political or cultural intentions of Borat, and it clearly just likes making fun of people's insecurities and societal conflicts. But the laughs are steady, and the short runtime makes most arguments against it seem petty. Unless you're a bigot, that is, but if you are, you probably wouldn't watch the movie anyway.