Pulling from the same playbook he used in Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen, this time as faux Austrian fashionista Bruno, calls out our nation as a bunch of hateful homophobes and the results are nearly comedic genius. His schtick is pretty well known at this point and doesn’t have nearly the shock value this second time around. All he has to do is seduce people with the intoxicating prospect of getting on TV and then coax them into saying something uncouth by pretending that he agrees with them.
Of course recreating the lightning in a bottle that was Borat is no small task. More questions of legitimacy hang over this film and people are already lining up to proclaim themselves duped by the master shock artist. More disconcerting to the fans should be the pranks that have created no controversy. Was NBC really punk’d into letting Cohen be an extra on Medium? It is hard to imagine but perhaps only the actors weren’t let in on the joke. This way NBC gets a free ad out of the deal and the film gets some raw footage of people looking like fools.
The militant anti-gay crowd is something of an easy target but that doesn’t make their reactions to Bruno any less hilarious. Other targets include; pompous TV executives, quick to rile African Americans, idiotic parents, but more than anything Cohen is out to remind us that as a nation we can hardly say that we have much in the way of gay pride. The basic premise of Cohen’s crusade is that Bruno wants to become an international superstar. Whereas the Jackass crew was perfectly happy to pull their stunts simply because they were funny, Cohen prefers the outline of a vague plot.
This means that when Bruno wanders out onto a fashion runway in Milan in a Velcro suit it has the fictional consequence of getting him "fired" from his TV show. On his new quest, Bruno decides that his first order of business is to take up a cause. This proves difficult since most of the good ones have already been hijacked by other celebrities ("Bono has AIDS"), but he eventually settles on the small task of bringing peace to the Middle East (or "Middle Earth" as he calls it). Cue an interview a man who, at least according to their PR department, is a "real terrorist." That may be but the scene, in which he gives said terrorist fashion advice to pass along to Osama Bin Laden, hardly seems worth the risk.
Other primary narrative devices include the decision that since Tom Cruise is straight (?) he should be too. This idea propels the movie through the end credits. Unlike Borat, which sputtered out near the end, Bruno builds towards a more natural denouement, and while the finale may be a wee bit predictable we do learn that mixed martial arts fans find it completely acceptable to throw folding chairs at people with whom they are disgusted.
Even if the staginess of some of his antics serves as a distraction you have to respect Cohen for his sheer theatrical nerve. If Bruno were to be taken as a work of total fiction it would still stand up as a strong comedy and rallying cry against all the gay haters out there. We probably never will know if Ron Paul was in on the joke when Bruno tried to seduce him (doubtful really) or if the talent-baby parents were prompted to agree with everything Bruno asked them… even if it was agreeing to sign their babies up for liposuction so that they could play a Nazi exterminator.
But the confrontations don’t necessarily have to be pure to be enjoyed. Obviously it is better when they are organic because we as a society that’s head-over-heels in love watching people react to extreme (or extremely silly) circumstances. To hear it from Bruno, it’s better to just go with the flow – unless we have to look homosexuality in the eye…then we become dangerous. Here’s hoping that with so many other worthy targets out there that Cohen’s career has a few more decades left in it.
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustav Hammarsten, Ron Paul, Snoop Dogg
Director: Larry Charles
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 88 minutes