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Saturday, July 11, 2009


Featured Reviewer: Brent Hartinger,

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen ... Brüno

Gustaf Hammarsten ... Lutz

Clifford Bañagale ... Diesel

Chibundu Orukwowu ... O.J.

Synopsis: "Borat" trickster Sacha Baron Cohen returns to the big screen to offer yet another stinging dose of sociopolitical satire in this comedy that finds him assuming the persona of gay fashionmonger Brüno, the self-proclaimed "voice of Austrian youth TV." Originally conceived as part of Cohen's cult television series Da Ali G Show, the character of Bruno offered a cleverly costumed Cohen the opportunity to highlight the absurdities of the fashion industry by interviewing unsuspecting fashion icons and other haute couture hangers-on. - Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

Review: "Brüno" isn't homophobic. But it's also not nearly as funny as "Borat" either.

Or maybe it is. As in "Borat": Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen's 2006 movie, the comedian creates outrageous situations — and then films how real people react.

And many of the set-ups are admittedly brilliant. Asking stage-mothers if they'd allow their actor-babies to operate heavy machinery, or lose ten pounds through liposuction, or be photographed dressed up like Nazis, pushing Jewish babies into ovens? And having these over-eager stage mothers readily agree to all this without question?

Now that is some amazing parody of America's celebrity-obsessed culture!

Likewise, plenty of the jokes are laugh-out-loud hilarious. I defy anyone not to laugh when "Brüno" has a psychic conjure up the spirit of a deceased member of the band Milli Vanilli — so "Brüno" can proceed to have "spirit" sex with him.

But even if this movie has its inspired moments, it doesn't have nearly the impact of "Borat".

Why? Well, we've seen the joke before: the whole movie is basically "Borat" with a different funny voice. And no matter how well-told a joke is, it's not nearly as funny the second time you hear it.

In short, Sacha Baron Cohen is the Susan Boyle of comedy. He's just as talented as the first time you saw him, but he's only going to knock your socks off once, at least as long as he's doing almost exactly the same shtick.

In the case of "Borat", it was so outrageous, so utterly different from anything we'd seen before, that most of us fell off our chairs laughing, not even noticing its flaws.

This time around, we see the flaws. The movie is more a satire about America's inane obsession with celebrity than it is about exposing homophobia, but both themes have their moments.

Some sequences do fall flat (exactly as in "Borat", even if we didn't notice). A long sequence with a martial arts expert teaching "Brüno" how to defend against "fags" with dildos goes nowhere.

And try as I might, I don't find anything funny about the Middle East situation, even when Cohen pretends not to know the difference between Hamas and hummus.

And why is it funny exactly when someone acts completely inappropriately in a given situation, and then people react with annoyance or outrage?

If I was Paula Abdul and you tried to serve me sushi on a naked male body, I'd get up and leave too. If I was in a focus group and you wasted my time showing what was obviously a ridiculous show (with frontal male nudity, no less, including a talking penis), I'd be annoyed too.

Yes, someone gets naked here, though no word on whether it was really Cohen. But I hope it goes without saying it's the opposite of sexy.

Part of the problem is that the filmmakers, and Cohen, squandered any sense of surprise by generating all those headlines while making the movie, and then commencing with last month's non-stop blitz of stunts and other publicity, including an avalanche of commercials and promotional clips.

By now, we've all seen or read about almost every scene and almost every joke in the movie. It's the anti-Susan Boyle effect where you go into the theater pretty much knowing exactly what you'll get.

The film's other big flaw? It sounds crazy to say this, but I wished I learned something real about "Brüno". I was disappointed the film, and Cohen, never took him even remotely seriously. The character was kept entirely on the level of a Saturday Night Live sketch — and 90 minutes is an awfully long sketch.

Back to the film's alleged homophobia. Two months ago, when GLAAD and others expressed concern about several scenes, Cohen and the filmmakers reportedly made some cuts. And a representative from GLAAD told me that The New York Times and other media outlets had over-emphasized their complaints, trying to create a "controversy" where one didn't really exist.

In any event, I didn't see anything homophobic in the final film. Sure, there are a couple of tasteless jokes — and they have nothing whatsoever to do with "exposing homophobia." But if they were funny, I didn't care, and when they weren't, it was impossible to feel offended given the nature of the movie, and the fact that this is 2009.

And "Brüno" himself? It's literally impossible for me to imagine how any sentient person couldn't see him for the outrageous, over-the-top satire he is (and if someone didn't, they're way beyond the reach of a mere movie anyway).

If you want a good laugh or two, go see it "Brüno". And while you're at it, take another look of that clip of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent. You'll be almost exactly as entertained.


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