Brüno was never going to be the monster hit Borat was. Borat was something entirely new – a mockumentary feature by a near-terrorist comedian; Sacha Baron Cohen was prepared literally to do anything to get jaws dropping on the floor. Not only that but his satire was razor sharp, and the targets of his anti-racist satire were obvious throughout. The same is not true of Brüno – on both counts. Is it by far the funniest (and often the most uncomfortable) film of the year? By all means. But it’s also quite confused and frequently needlessly self-indulgent. Is it funny that he tricks the likes of Paula Abdul and Ron Paul? That he doorsteps Harrison Ford? That he appalls a focus group in his quest to become a ‘celebrity’? Sure, but it’s so needlessly over-the-top that it’s a long way from satire. Baron Cohen does hit the mark in this film, but it’s largely in the second half that he starts a very clear attack on homophobia, in scenes which are often so extreme they still shock.
I like the performer-as-terrorist approach, with its is-it-real-or-staged sequences, which in Borat were largely impossible to distinguish from the obviously scripted material. In Brüno though these are mostly obvious which is disappointing, but not always: the gay fashionista unveiling his gayby (above) on a Texan talk show, the ‘Straight Dave’ brawling competition, the army induction, the bondage in the hotel might are unexpected, and almost morally wrong. The introduction of Brüno with his boyfriend as well, is scream-inducing, narrowly outdone by his visit with a psychic. I won’t explain why, you’ll have to experience that scene’s hilarous, yet cringe-inducing events yourself. But in between all these great moments, as with many of this summer’s films it seems, is very little. Is Brüno merely an Ali G style device to investigate social prejudices in a series of sketches, or is there a coherent narrative guiding the movie as well? In Borat the answer was yes to both; not so here. The rest of Brüno is very funny but entirely self-indulgent and leaves you far less engaged than in Baron Cohen’s last cinematic outing; how prepared American parents are to degrade their children on film is interesting, but it didn’t belong in this film.
It’s clear that Baron Cohen, Paula Abdul aside, is now largely recognised by most of his intended victims. If he wants to continue this approach he and director Larry Charles will have to be much clearer of their intentions and need better focus on their targets. Half the film veers across all sorts of bigotries and attitudes as Baron Cohen and Charles do their damnedest to stitch together their real-life interventions, some of which work, many of which don’t, and try in vain to connect them all; it’s only dumb luck that the second half is so sharp. Borat was a lovable idiot, and it made him an effective prism through which to look at American racism. Baron Cohen’s character’s intentions are never clear in this film, and it’s a sever disappointment. You’ll laugh almost as much as you did with Borat, but it’s much less satisfying. 8/10