A seventysomething politician, a group called God Hates Fags, some rednecks in Arkansas and a couple of ultraconservative, self-proclaimed men of God have issues with flamboyant homosexuals?
Really? Shocking. What lesson are we going to get next----that some people in the entertainment industry love to go for the easy laughs?
Sacha Baron Cohen is a brilliant and brave improvisational comedian----an absolute master of the elaborate set-up and the uncomfortable, hilariously ludicrous encounter. "Borat" was a disgustingly fantastic near-masterpiece. "Ali G." was a great character.
Bruno? Eh. He's good for a few laughs, but Cohen is hardly mining new material with this character who has a funny accent and whose every waking moment is an exercise in clueless, narcissistic flamboyance. We get it: the jokes on him, but he never gets it. I wouldn't be surprised to learn Bruno is a cousin of the children of Yortuk and Georg Festrunk, those two wild and crazy guys from the 1970s.
At this point, Cohen is so well-known it's hard to believe a publicist for Paula Abdul or a handler for Ron Paul wouldn't know the supposed interview is really a setup. Then again, Abdul is famously scatter-brained, so maybe she really did think nothing of sitting on a Mexican man's back (Bruno explains it's the latest in furniture fashion) as she talks about her charity work. And it certainly seems as if Ron Paul believes Bruno is a legitimate interview, up until the moment Bruno drops his drawers and Paul storms out, calling Bruno a "queer."
But in many scenes, there are multiple camera angles and reaction shots, indicating at least some of these people HAVE to be in on the joke. Either that or they were too stupid to refuse to sign the release form that makes them look like dopes.
The conceit of "Bruno" is the title character was a minor celebrity in Austria until his all-Velcro suit led to a disastrous episode at a fashion show and got Bruno banned from the fashion. (Pop culture historian note: David Letterman did the Velcro suit gag more than 20 years ago on his NBC show.) After making one subtle and funny Hitler joke, and then repeating it in an overt and unfunny fashion a few moments later, Bruno makes his way to America "to become a celebrity."
After a few failed attempts to grab the spotlight----including his adoption of an African baby he names "O.J."----Bruno has a revelation. To become a big star in America, he has to be straight. (Cohen takes a cheap shot by naming three A-list actors who have long been rumored to be gay.)
Hilarity ensues, at least here and there. When Bruno messes around with a young pastor who believes he can "cure" people of homosexuality----OK, that guy probably deserves it. When he creates chaos at a swingers' gathering (where the real miracle is that these people are turned on by each other), that's worth more than a few laughs, though one has to wonder about the "spontaneity" of it all.
But a scene with Bruno and three stereotypical good ol' boy hunters never really goes anywhere. Of course they're uncomfortable with his antics----but embarrassed silence is hardly comedy gold. (Same thing with Bruno at a basic training camp. And you're going to tell me the U.S. Army didn't know Sasha Baron Cohen wanted to film a scene in one of their barracks?)
In a scene with strong echoes of Borat's appearance at a rodeo, Bruno takes center stage in a wrestling ring in Arkansas. It's a funny scene, but again, are we supposed to be shocked that beer-swilling, ultimate-fight fans might be put off by over-the-top homosexual antics? (Ooh, am I now trafficking in stereotypes?) Why not just go into a strip club in Chicago and surprise the men there by flapping your jockstrap in their faces? Guess what, they're not going to be any more tolerant than those wrestling fans.
If "Bruno" had managed to elicit reactions from more surprising targets, if we were sure Harrison Ford and Paula Abdul weren't in on the gag, if Sacha Baron Cohen hadn't already thoroughly explored the prank-interview as a comedic tool, this film would be much fresher and funnier.
Of course it's offensive. Of course it's aggressively in your face. Of course one could argue that Cohen is exploiting the very stereotypes he lampoons. With a running time of less than 90 minutes, "Bruno" is never boring, occasionally very funny, but often quite predictable. At this point I think I'd rather see Cohen create a character who messes with the mindset of liberals, especially those who consider themselves to be progressive thinkers. I think he's wrung all the laughs that can be milked from flyover country.