In Borat's Footsteps, A Mincing Teutonic Menace

Sacha Baron Cohen in 'Bruno' i i

Sacha Baron Cohen has bleached his hair, shaved his body and left Borat behind for Bruno. Universal Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Universal Pictures
Sacha Baron Cohen in 'Bruno'

Sacha Baron Cohen has bleached his hair, shaved his body and left Borat behind for Bruno.

Universal Pictures

Bruno

  • Director: Larry Charles
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 88 minutes

Rated R: Pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language

With: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Banagale

Sacha Baron Cohen poses as 'Bruno.' i i

His sense of fashion may be different, but Baron Cohen's brand of comedy is the same: exploitative, misanthropic, humiliating, sometimes just downright mean — and often as not, scabrously funny. Universal Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Universal Pictures
Sacha Baron Cohen poses as 'Bruno.'

His sense of fashion may be different, but Baron Cohen's brand of comedy is the same: exploitative, misanthropic, humiliating, sometimes just downright mean — and often as not, scabrously funny.

Universal Pictures

When it comes to getting into his roles, Sacha Baron Cohen fully commits. Remember that awkward nude wrestling scene in Borat?

To play Bruno — the gay fashionista who claims to be "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler" — Baron Cohen submits, on camera, to a process called a___ b___.

Wait, I guess my editor isn't going to let me say that on NPR. Even on the Web.

[Ed.: You got that right.]

Can I say that he runs at a martial arts instructor waving two d_____ while wearing a s___-o_? Or that he graphically f_______ — and r___ — the spirit of Milli, from Milli Vanilli? With the help of a psychic?

[Ed.: Um, no.]

I sense it's going to be hard to do the movie full justice, at least in a civilized manner that's appropriate for all audiences. But that's sort of the point: Baron Cohen is an envelope-pusher. And in this instance, he is playing a mincing gay stereotype so over-the-top preposterous that it's the folks foolish enough to take him seriously who become the butt of the joke.

Baron Cohen's humor is mostly about Bruno's obliviousness to real people's real reactions to him. The movie's not just about homosexuality, though Bruno's opening romp with his "pygmy lover" — a sequence presumably designed to clear the theater of prudes — is explicit enough that the viewers will never be able to claim that they can't imagine what two men do together.

Bruno, like Borat, is an equal-opportunity provocateur, happy to mock, humiliate or offend people on racial grounds, political grounds and any other grounds available. At one point, to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, he goes to what he calls the Middle-Earth, hoping to mediate between a Mossad chief and a Palestinian minister. It does not, as you might imagine, go well.

American targets fare no better. Onetime presidential candidate Ron Paul and American Idol's Paula Abdul probably wish they hadn't agreed to those interviews with Bruno; both try to insist on boundaries — waaaay too late in the process — and Bruno pushes blithely past them, just as he does when undergoing religious counseling to go straight, or talking to eager stage parents who're hoping he'll cast their babies.

Director Larry Charles has made Bruno a tighter, better-looking film than Borat, which is not necessarily a good thing on those occasions when you suspect it of scripting rather than just observing. It's probably getting hard for Baron Cohen to find patsies who won't recognize him, and when moments seem like setups with actors, they turn as tame as if he were Will Ferrell.

That said, when things feel real, they can get scary-real — as when an Arkansas wrestling-match crowd that's been whipped into a homophobic frenzy turns on Bruno, realizing it's about to witness "wrestling" of a sort it didn't expect.

Baron Cohen has barbed wire between him and the crowd, and he needs it. They're furious — and the fact that their own behavior has been bigoted and appalling can't entirely eclipse the fact that it's easy to figure out why they're furious. The brand of comedy they've been made the butt of is misanthropic, exploitative, and kind of mean.

In Bruno, it's also pretty ______ funny.

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