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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The latest provocation from comedian Sacha Baron Cohen arrives in movie theaters Friday. The creator of "Borat," the controversial fake Kazakh who interacted with real unsuspecting onlookers has now streaked his hair blonde, shaved his moustache and donned hot pants. In his new film, he is Bruno, a flamboyantly gay TV personality. Bob Mondello says, Baron Cohen's appearance may have changed but he's still pushing the same boundaries.

BOB MONDELLO: Let it be said that Sacha Baron Cohen fully commits to a role. He shaved off all his body hair to play Bruno, a gay fashionista who claims to be the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler. And on screen, he submits to process called (censored). Hmm, I can't say that on the air? Can I say he runs at a martial arts instructor holding two (censored) and wearing a (censored)? How about that through a psychic, he pretty graphically (censored) and (censored) the spirit of Milli, from Milli Vanilli?

Huh. I sense that this is not going to be an easy movie to do full justice to on the radio. But that's sort of the point. Sacha Baron Cohen is an envelope-pusher. In this instance, playing a mincing gay stereotype, so over-the-top and preposterous that it's the folks foolish enough to take him seriously who become the butt of the joke. Soldiers in an officer candidate camp for instance, where candidate Bruno accessorizes his army fatigues with a silk scarf.

(Soundbite of movie, "Bruno")

Unidentified Man #1: That is not part of the uniform. Can - you need to take that off.

Mr. SACHA BARON COHEN (Actor): (as Bruno) This outfit is too much matchy matchy as it is. And so it's just time to break it up with some simple horizontal lines.

Unidentified Man #1: Do you've an attitude, candidate? Do we?

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) No?

Unidentified Man #1: Everything he said?

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) No, she's got an attitude.

Unidentified Man #1: We too (unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #2: He's got an attitude.

Unidentified Man #1: What sort of (unintelligible).

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno): What (unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #1: Did you just call me she?

MONDELLO: Cohen's humor is mostly about Bruno's obliviousness and the real reactions of real people to him. The movie's not just about homosexuality, though an opening romp with a man Bruno calls his pigmy lover, presumably designed to clear the theater of prudes, is explicit enough that 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, or humiliate or offend people on racial, political and any other grounds available. At one point, to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, he goes to what he calls the Middle-Earth and tries to mediate between a former Mossad chief and a former Palestinian government minister.

(Soundbite of movie, "Bruno")

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) Why are you so anti-Hamas? I mean, isn't pita bread the real enemy?

MONDELLO: Both men looked briefly puzzled, then the Mossad chief figures it out.

(Soundbite of movie, "Bruno")

Unidentified Man #3: You are confusing Hamas with hummus, I believe. It's a food, okay. We eat it, they eat it?

MONDELLO: American celebs fare no better. Former presidential candidate Ron Paul and American Idol's Paula Abdul probably wish they hadn't agreed to an interview with Bruno. Way too late in the process, both tried to insist on boundaries and Bruno pushes blithely past them, just as he does when undergoing religious counseling to go straight, or talking to overeager stage parents who are hoping he'll cast their babies.

(Soundbite of movie, "Bruno")

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) Is your baby comfortable with bees, wasps, and hornets?

Unidentified Woman: Georgie is comfortable with everything. He's fine.

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) Is she comfortable with dead or dying animals?

Unidentified Man #4: Yes.

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) Is she okay with extremely rapid acceleration?

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) Okay. Does she always have to be in a car seat or can she just like freestyle?

Unidentified Woman: Oh, yeah. You can freestyle it and put her in her car seat, whenever.

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) Is your baby fine with lit phosphorus?

Unidentified Man #4: Loves it.

Mr. COHEN: (as Bruno) Oh good.

MONDELLO: 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 him of scripting rather than just observing. It's probably getting hard for Sacha 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 crowd that's been whipped into a homophobic frenzy turns on Bruno, realizing that it's about to witness wrestling of a sort it didn't expect. 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 doesn't really make it hard to understand why they are furious. The brand of comedy they've been made the butt of is misanthropic, exploitive, and kind of mean. In "Bruno," it's also as often as not, pretty (censored) funny.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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