Sacha Baron Cohen as Brüno
Gustaf Hammarsten as Lutz
Clifford Bañagale as Diesel
Chibundu and Chigozie Orukwowu as O.J.
Josh Meyers as Kookus
Toby Hoguin as Mexican Gardener #1
Robert Huerta as Mexican Gardener #2
Gilbert Rosales as Mexican Gardener #3
Thomas Rosales Jr. as Mexican Gardener #4
Marco Xavier as Mexican Gardener #5
Directed by Larry Charles
Even more insane and hysterical than “Borat,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilarious follow-up is also far more coherent and effective at using shock factor to get you laughing.
19-year-old Austrian supermodel Brüno (Sacha Baron Cohen) has been fired from hosting his talk show after a runway incident, so he travels to Hollywood with his trusty assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarstein) in hopes of becoming a celebrity.
As one of the few people none-too-thrilled by Sacha Baron Cohen’s weak attempt at using humor in “Borat” to comment on misogyny and anti-Semitism not only in Eastern European stereotypes but in Americans as well, I was skeptical that Cohen could convince me there was more to his gay Austrian supermodel Brüno that would warrant a feature-length film. After all, we’ve seen far too many times how characters created for TV skits (which is essentially Cohen’s forte) rarely work in a longer form. Wisely, I had familiarized myself more with Cohen’s gay supermodel character from that earlier experience, so I was familiar with his schtick and how he uses it to expose homophobia in the most banal places.
Cohen has clearly had more time to develop Brüno and figure out the best way to use him in a story that encompasses a variety of different in-character pranks, and fortunately, a lot of them involve more than the character just acting dumb due to unfamiliarity with U.S. customs and traditions. This movie follows Brüno’s journey to Hollywood, accompanied by his adoring assistant Lutz, in hopes of starting fresh and becoming a celebrity.
To some, it might seem obvious why this movie would have GLADD up in arms once they realized the straight British comic would be playing a flamboyantly gay character for an entire film, presumably solidifying negative stereotypes within his mostly straight male audience. In fact, Cohen is once again using an exaggerated caricature as a way to get the people he meets and interviews to let down their guard and show there’s a lot of homophobia in play in our country. (Not that anyone needs be reminded of this based on the inability for our government to agree on supporting those with alternate lifestyles.)
But the movie isn’t just about Brüno’s sexuality, and the “gay stuff” doesn’t really come into play until about halfway through the movie. Up until that point, it’s more about outing stupid people in the industry who don’t understand that they shouldn’t say ridiculously dumb and offensive things while on camera. In an early segment, Brüno convinces Paula Abdul to talk about her humanitarian work while sitting on the human furniture courtesy of his Mexican gardeners. (The bit that followed with LaToya Jackson has been cut from the final version.) In another bit, he convinces stage parents to allow their young babies to be shot doing unspeakable things, all for the sake of “show biz.” You might almost be embarrassed laughing at how these parents don’t even hesitate before agreeing. Brüno’s own attempts at adopting a black baby doesn’t go well. While it’s always fun to watch Cohen put celebrities and political figures on the hot seat, the best bits are when he’s out in public, deliberately making a fool of himself in order to get a reaction from whomever he can. There does seem to be a little bit of staged fakery to help wrap some of those scenes up, but no more or less than in “Borat.”
Over the last few months, you’ve probably heard about some of Brüno’s exploits from various news outlets, but you may be surprised how some of them are used within the context of the story, especially the final prank where Cohen fights another man in a steel cage, only for them to start ripping off their clothes and making out, something that doesn’t go over well with the mostly male Arkansas audience. There’s quite a bit of male frontal nudity and a number of outrageous sex scenes, the latter mostly done to amuse, although you’ll probably be thankful a lot of the most graphic portions have been blurred out. The only real weak moment compared to the rest of the movie is the “We Are the World” number that closes the movie complete with all of the usual suspects (Sting, Bono, Elton John) lending their voices. It just doesn’t seem as clever or original as some of Cohen’s other ideas.
The plot itself isn’t exactly “War and Peace,” essentially leading to Cohen’s character having an altercation with his travel partner and it culminating in a number of equally hilarious situations. After he splits with Lutz, Brüno decides that the only way for him to become famous is by being straight, so he goes to a series of Christian “converters” who seem nonplussed by the challenge of turning Brüno straight. This is where the film starts to really take off as Cohen starts playing with how far he can take the stereotype, whether it’s mouthing off at an army boot camp, attending a swingers’ party where he convinces a straight man to show him some sex moves, and he even takes part in a martial arts demonstration where he gets a straight-laced instructor to show him the defensive arts against a variety of dildos. It’s all very funny stuff, because you’re in on the joke while everyone else tries their best to take his character seriously despite his insane actions and requests.
Third time is the charm for director Larry Charles who finds clever and inventive ways to tie all the vignettes together using music and sound FX, making this a much funnier film than both “Borat” and “Religulous.” It doesn’t hurt that there’s a far more coherent story in play to keep everything glued together, and that Cohen has figured the best way of building a joke over the course of each bit rather than constantly regurgitating the same jokes. Who knows if Cohen went to such great lengths to stay in character for this jaunt as he did while playing Borat, but one has to be impressed with the flawless German, which he speaks through most of the film. (On the other hand, his constant replacement of words like “Ass” with “Auschwitz” does get somewhat tiring.)
Someday, someone will take time to analyze what Cohen does to see why it’s so effective at amusing some while at the same time offending others. With “Borat,” I made the mistake of assuming Cohen was just an Andy Kaufman or Yakov Smirnoff wannabe, but there’s a lot more deliberate thought being put into what he does, making him the thinking man’s comedian who doesn’t necessarily require a lot of thinking.
The Bottom Line:
The bottom line for any comedy is whether it makes you laugh, and this one had me laughing loudly and almost in tears many times at some of the most insane things I’ve seen on screen. That’s what I’d consider a success. If you’re comfortable with your sexuality and not too sensitive about humor done deliberately to shock and offend, you’ll be laughing, too.