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Movie Review: Brüno
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The Rub   |  
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Brüno
Directed by Larry Charles
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Josh Meyers, Robert Huerta, Gilbert Rosales
Rated R
Release Date: July 10, 2009

You can say what you want about him, but Sasha Baron Cohen has a knack for pissing people off. In his new movie Brüno, he does just that — but not for the reasons you would think. At its core, Brüno is nothing more than an indirect sequel of sorts to its wildly successful and superior predecessor, Borat. The character is slightly different, but the structure is the same. Both feature Baron Cohen playing a foreign character on some fish-out-of-water quest that allows him to interact with unsuspecting people while he pushes the boundaries of taste in the hope of yielding something funny. This time around we have Bruno: a gay Austrian fashion reporter who gets fired from his television program. He decides to come to America to become the most famous person in the world.

It has enough in common with Baron Cohen’s previous work, so it has to be good, right? I mean, all I’ve been hearing for weeks is that it is more outrageous and over the top than the movie that made Baron Cohen famous. It seems that outrageous and funny aren’t hand in hand after all.

Look, I get it; the formula has worked for Baron Cohen for years and all of his original characters pretty much follow it to the letter, but as far as Brüno is concerned I just can’t seem to get on board. As a movie, it has no rhythm. The mockumentary style of its intent is abandoned for a narrative that never really finds its footing and feels like a series of overblown sketches instead of what they were aiming for.

According to Universal Pictures, Brüno is a satire that uses “provocative comedy to powerfully shed light on the absurdity of many kinds of intolerance and ignorance…”

A decent portion of the segments had very little to do with peoples reaction to his sexuality; they were just a series of events that involved a loud character — who happened to be gay — trying to illicit a specific response. Sometimes it worked, but most times, not so much. It sort of proves my point — for people who do, they don’t dislike Bruno because he’s gay; they dislike him because he is annoying. At the end of the day, is it really fair to use the loudest, most extreme examples of the gay lifestyle against the unknowing to then wait for any reaction so you can cry “Homophobia!”? After watching how effortless Borat seemed to be, beating people into submission seems a little like cheating.

The single reason Borat was so successful, besides being wickedly funny, was that the character was likable. He had a certain unassuming naiveté that drew you in before he hit you with his over the top politics and opinions. It was at that point that one of two things happened; the target either reacted or was lulled into a certain relaxation that made them feel comfortable enough to voice their own prejudices. This was the charm of Borat and the thing that was regrettably absent during any of the segments in Brüno.

It is unfortunate, but not totally Baron Cohen’s fault. With Borat he was able to catch people off guard. You could almost say that Brüno failed to connect because Borat was so successful. People are honed in enough that they either don’t want to be “had” or they play dumb enough to make the cut. Either way it’s just not funny anymore. Once a magician shows you how he does the trick, it stops being cool.

If there is one thing I commend Bruno for, it is creator/actor Baron Cohen’s relentless pursuit for authenticity. I continue to be impressed by the actual craft that goes in to making his films. Not so much the production, but the way he is able to fearlessly remain in character regardless of the situation. It’s his one golden ticket that he cashed in one too many times. If he is going to shock the world again, he’s going to have to dig deep next time and give us something completely different. He’s already famous, now he just has to prove he earned it.

And there’s the rub.

* ½ out of ****

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