Review: Brüno

© 2009, Everyman  
It appears the trilogy is now complete. After creating starring vehicles for his characters Ali G (2002’s "Ali G Indahouse") and Borat Sagdiyev (2006’s smash "Borat"), the time has come for Sacha Baron Cohen to allow Bruno an opportunity to carry his own picture. "Bruno" (IMDb listing) will likely be welcomed by an adoring audience fully equipped to endure the traditional blast of Cohen-approved smut and merciless social commentary, especially after "Borat" turned his obscure antics into box office gold. However, don’t hold sudden international success against Cohen’s superb modus operandi, who once again tears into a clueless world seeking to mock, celebrate, and disgust anyone who will welcome him.

Watching his success on German television taken away from him, fashion expert Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) is ready to make the leap to America. Traveling to Los Angeles with assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), Bruno hopes to hit it big on network television, only to watch as his special brand of homosexually charged antics fail to impress American test audiences. Dejected, Bruno travels around the globe trying to make himself famous, finding nooks and crannies of culture to test his charms. Armed with his gumption, his adoptive African baby O.J., and his innate sense of cutting-edge style, Bruno finds he must make peace with himself before he can change the world.

With "Bruno," Sacha Baron Cohen finds his velvet bag of magic tricks nearly empty. With the megaton success of "Borat," the actor is a now a fixture of the media spotlight, unable to hide behind careful disguises and fool unsuspecting victims. To help control the necessity for surprise, "Bruno" is caught somewhere between the faux-documentary shenanigans of "Borat" and the straight-laced comedic stylistics of "Ali G Indahouse." It’s a bubbling potion of the staged and the real that supplies a suitable comfort zone for Cohen to manufacture his most outrageous character: a hulking gay fashionista with a tireless libido and a limited appreciation for personal space.

"Bruno" doesn’t feature a rigid structure, but merely provides a faint sense of purpose for our Austrian hero to go out into the world and try to spread his special brand of tight-pantsed cheer through increasingly preposterous situations. If Ali G trafficked in B-boy stupidity and Borat represented extreme foreign cluelessness, Bruno is a big gay menace. Using the character’s homosexuality as the bayonet on the rifle of satire, "Bruno" is more consumed with stirring up homophobic response than trying to stitch together a consistent feature film. "Bruno" eventually sheds all dramatic pretenses to run free in the fields of Cohen’s pervy imagination, sticking the character in impossible situations of conflict to capture the often colorful reactions.

Whether he’s enlisting in boot camp, trying to seduce Ron Paul to help market a sex tape, appearing on a Jerry Springeresque talk show to defend his African baby, meeting with Christian homosexual conversion experts, struggling to interview Paula Abdul while using Mexican day laborers as furniture, looking to broker peace in the Middle East, visiting a swinger’s party, or assuming disguise as "Straight Dave" and staging a UFC event (taking the sport to its natural conclusion), Bruno is craving fame at any cost. Cohen’s enviable energy in the role goes a long way toward smoothing out the rough edges of the filmmaking, working to mold a thin structure of fame-whore ridiculousness to a picture more concerned with gags and punchlines, often accompanied by graphic male nudity. "Bruno" is habitually shocking, especially in the manner it fixates on anal play and the defiant heterosexuality of the marks, but Cohen keeps the horseplay frothy enough to avoid a hate crime mentality.

"Bruno" doesn’t break new ground for Cohen and his marvelous comic impulses, but it gives him room to play, and that’s just as welcome. "Bruno" contains plenty of belly laughs, audible gasps, and provides a sly refresher on obscene civilian prejudice, drilling to the cancerous heart of intolerance one laugh at a time.

Filmfodder Grade: B+