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Bruno (2009) Dir. Larry Charles 12 July 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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In the run up to the release of Bruno Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as the flamboyant homosexual Austrian fashionista, pulled a stunt at the MTV Movie Awards where his crotch ended up in the face of rap star Eminem. There were questions after whether what we had just seen, including Eminem’s furious reaction, was genuine or all just a publicity stunt by the two men – one promoting a new film, the other a new album. But anyone with half a brain could have told you it wasn’t real and unfortunately it was an indication of the direction Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles have taken with Bruno, whether it be a creative choice or a decision forced by the fact Baron Cohen is now such a recognisable face. Far too much of Bruno is scripted, veering closer to Ali G in Da House territory than the marvellous Borat, and without exception it’s these bits that let the film down, failing to deliver the kind of laughs you would expect in a film with so much satirical potential.

Despite the fact Borat had the barest semblance of a plot the strength of the jokes in practically every scene, and the scarcity of scripted set pieces, meant you hardly noticed it was little more than a series of sketches loosely tied together. Here it’s painfully obvious and in an effort to paper over the cracks there is more drive to the narrative, with the titular Bruno searching for fame in America after getting fired from his job as host of Austrian youth fashion show Funkyzeit for a Velcro suit faux pas at a fashion show. While in America Bruno’s misguided efforts for fame and fortune see him adopt an African baby, attempt to broker peace in the middle east, create a diabolical pilot for an entertainment TV show and eventually go heterosexual.

Like most I was a huge fan of Borat, which did a wonderful job of exposing US xenophobia for all the world to see. And while, to a certain extent Bruno also succeeds in laying bare some of America’s shameful homophobic black spots it just isn’t as funny. The major problem for me was the prevalence of scripted scenes, but the problems start with Bruno himself, even more one-note than Ali G or Borat and difficult to ever really like because he’s so self-centred. Bruno’s assistant’s assistant Lutz is also less well realised than his Borat equivalent, Azamat, as his only purpose seems to be as a plot device rather than generating any laughs as Ken Davitian’s character did so successfully.

Maybe I’m getting old but I didn’t think there was one worthy laugh throughout the whole of Bruno (and judging by the reaction of the rest of the audience watching it with me neither did they), it kept me consistently smiling and raised a few chuckles, but the best moments in Bruno are the ones that shock you. The reactions of the parents at a baby photo shoot audition have to be seen to be believed and Bruno’s visits to a couple a gay counsellors could only happen in America. But even the latter scene falls a little flat, offering little beyond the initial shock of learning this service actually exists. Bruno is also extremely explicit, and while I’m all for freedom of expression, whatever form that may take, a lot of the sexual content in this film seemed needlessly gratuitous, particularly as it failed to generate any laughs. Having said that though a scene in which Bruno graphically enacts fellatio on the spirit of Milli (of Milli Vanilli) through a psychic medium is an all too brief moment of physical comedy genius.

The final nail in the coffin for Baron Cohen’s comedy formula comes with a cringe-worthy (for all the wrong reasons) charity single which concludes the film, with celebrity cameos from the likes of Bono, Sting, Elton John and Chris Martin. It’s completely pointless and does little more than demonstrate Baron Cohen’s admirable reach nowadays, but if he has any sense he’ll put those resources to good use and abandon the neither here nor there pseudo-scripted comedy of Bruno and devote his venerable talents to a more worthy project.

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