2006’s Borat was a revelation. More than just the funniest movie of that year it was also a piece of stark social commentary. Sacha Baron Cohen walked across America and put unsuspecting idiots under his spell, grinning happily behind a Magnum P.I. mustache and luring them into revealing their bigotry by pretending to be one of them. There was a story there too. Director Larry Charles successfully molded together a series of vignettes into a complete narrative, a real fish out of water story with characters you care about as well as a beginning, middle and end. Enter Borat’s successor Bruno, a movie where an annoying man appears in random, disconnected sketches to wave his cock in the face of innocent bystanders and then calls them homophobic when they don’t want to suck it.
Bruno is the third of the three characters originated by Cohen on his old HBO series Da Ali G show. He’s not only flamboyantly gay he’s also Austrian, which allows for more than this movie’s fair share of Hitler jokes. Except perhaps it’s not even fair to call him flamboyantly gay, to do so implies that flamboyantly gay people are a lot less fun to hang out with than they are. Bruno is probably best described as flamboyantly irritating, a character created no so much out of gay stereotypes as he is pulled from whatever it is that Cohen thinks is mostly likely to get on people’s nerves. He’s so irritating that he’s soon fired from his popular fashion show on Austrian television, and so he makes his way to America where he plans to ditch the television thing and focus instead on becoming uber-famous for no reason, like Paris Hilton.
There was a real opportunity here to satirize America’s celebrity-obsessed culture, to pull back the curtain on our “everybody look at me” mentality. More than anything that seems to be what Bruno as a character tries to represent. He’s the embodiment of every failed American Idol contestant you’ve ever seen, desperate for attention but with no real talent that might warrant it. These themes are explored only half-heartedly, but when they are it results in some of the movie’s best moments. For instance a casting session in which Bruno auditions babies for a photoshoot by asking parents if their newborns are comfortable around wasps and bees is shocking, horrifying, and funny all at once. But it’s only an interlude, a break before we get another shot of Bruno’s pubic hair being thrust toward some poor fellow’s head.
Though it’s missing all the relevance and subtly of Borat some of the laughs are still there and so is much of the uncomfortable silence in which ordinary people are confronted with Cohen’s bizarre behavior. It works comedically in much the same way Jackass did, the entire film is a game of chicken played to see how far Sacha Baron Cohen will go to piss people off. If he has limits, they aren’t in evidence. There’s laughter but it’s empty, mean-spirited laughter. Bruno makes fun of people for no other reason than it can, not because it has something to say or because they have in some way done something to deserve it. Of course Ron Paul is going to walk out on your interview if you take off your pants and try to hump him, and of course people are going to stare if you stumble onto a bus half-naked and chained to a gimp. It’s offensive and it’s frequently funny, but there’s nothing revelatory in that. For those of you sick to death of listening as others quote Borat, relax. There’s nothing worth remembering let alone quoting in Bruno. It’s destined to be quickly and easily forgotten.
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