The International Writers Magazine: Film Review
starring Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by Larry Charles
Watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2009 comedy, Bruno, released after his breakthrough 2006 hit, Borat, is a little bit anticlimactic. Bruno is funny, but, in almost every way, and despite featuring a different character, it is an inferior film.
It’s good, it has some outrageously funny moments, but never does the viewer NOT know how a 5-6 minute long vignette will end after seeing 5-10 seconds of the opening setup.
The mockumentary approach of the film is solid enough, and well marshaled by director Larry Charles, as it follows queer Austrian fashion guru Bruno after his firing from a cable TV show called Funkyzeit. Bruno crashes a fashion show and the disruptions, if the PR for the film is to be believed, were not staged, but featured Cohen, in character doing outrageous bits and often getting beaten up or arrested. After being fired, Bruno (who claims to be all of 19) and his assistant’s assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) - whose name he cannot remember. Head to America so Bruno can become famous.
In approximate order, the main scenes include a stand in role on the NBC show Medium, interviewing then American Idol judge Paula Abdul while sitting on chair people (an incident Abdul says ‘scarred’ her), a talk show where he wishes death to the fetus of Britney Spears’ sister Jamie Lynn, getting cursed out by Harrison Ford, trying to seduce Libertarian politician Ron Paul, shadow fellating Milli from Milli Vanilli, failing to end Middle East conflicts while interviewing Jewish and Moslem terrorists and leaders, adopts a black African child to be hip, like Madonna and Angelina Jolie, appears on a talk show filled with black audience members who are outraged when he names the baby OJ, gets tied together with Lutz, in a sexual position, and confronts anti-gay activists, breaks up with Lutz, decides to go straight, makes passes at gay converters, learns karate to prevent assaults from rampaging dildo bearing homosexuals, goes to a straight swingers party, hunting with good ol’ boys in Alabama, then, after a dissolve, 8 months pass, and Bruno claims to be straight, and organizes an ultimate fighting cage match in Arkansas, as Straight Dave, and then fights Lutz, before the two of them end up making out in the ring and causing a riot.
This scene goes viral, Bruno becomes famous, marries Lutz, gets OJ back and the film ends with bleeding heart liberal singers like Bono, Elton John, Chris Martin, Snoop Dogg, Sting, and Slash recording a bad song called Dove Of Peace for a CD.
It’s all well wrought, but too easy and predictable a screenplay. The targets that Cohen assails are more obvious than in Borat, and thus the laughability quotient, especially on rewatch, does not hold up to anything like the infamous 69 scene in the first film. All else is solidly done, and certainly kudos must be hailed for the film’s ballsiness in letting real life situation splay out in potentially dangerous ways. But, anyone expecting more than a good 80 or so minutes of laughing will be disappointed. Somehow the film never rises to the level of satire, much less parody, and settles in as mere spoof. The opening scenes of Bruno with his then lover, a Filipino near-midget named Diesel, and their various Rube Goldbergian sex devices and poses, is probably the closest thing to originality the film offers.
Yes, like Borat, Bruno (the character and the film) started out as a character developed by Cohen on his successful television shows. The most famous of his character, Ali G., has yet to make a celluloid appearance, but that’s a good thing, as I doubt that a third film, in this vein, could recapture the magic that Borat had. Yes, Cohen is a much more gifted and varied comic force than, say, someone like Jerry Lewis (France’s resident genius) ever was. Still, schtick can only take one so far (ask the Three Stooges, or Abbott And Costello, especially when comparing their first few films with their last few films).
The film came under much criticism for the ambush style tactics it used, although many critics claim that the supposed ‘victims’ were in on the schtick. Be this true or not, critic Roger Ebert probably had the best advice, in his review of the film:
It is no doubt unfair of Cohen to victimize a perfectly nice man like Ron Paul. Watching Paul politely trying to deal with this weirdo made me reflect that as a fringe candidate, he has probably been subjected to a lot of strange questions on strange TV shows and probably is prepared to sit through almost anything for TV exposure. However, he has made a lot of intolerant comments about homosexuals, so by shouting “queer!” as he stalks out along a hotel corridor, he lost his chance of making amends. Helpful rule: If you find you have been the subject of a TV ambush, the camera is probably still rolling.
In short, especially public figures are fair game vis-à-vis their own noxious beliefs. Aside from the ambushes, the other relative standout thing about the film is its often graphic sexual content (digital boxes block numerous genital regions in the film). But, while teen boys may find this funny, the reality is that the film, just like too much of this and hundreds of other reviews of the film, focuses too much on the obvious moments designed to outrage and provoke rather than those genuinely funny non-shock moments.
I watched the film on Netflix, and technically, all the film’s aspects were sound. Nothing too good not bad, with the exception of the film’s soundtrack, and some stellar scoring by Erran Baron Cohen- the star’s older brother. The contrapuntal effect of over the top technopop with glamour moments, and sometimes the use of total musical silence at times when most scorers would have led an audience, augurs good things for the elder Cohen, and makes me wonder if he will strike out on his own and be offered a chance to score other films? I hope so, because, musical scoring is an undervalued minor art, and most films, Hollywood, foreign, or indy, these days, are poorly scored.
That acknowledged, Bruno, while not great nor innovative, is worth, at least, a watch. Whether one returns for seconds or not is the only real question left.
© Dan Schneider November 2015
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