Friday, July 10, 2009

Review: "Brüno"

"Brüno" is fun and outrageous, but like its predecessor "Borat" -- they are so similar that it's best to consider this new one a sequel -- it outstays its welcome. Although barely cracking the 80-minute mark, there are parts that are painfully funny and others that are just painful.

This mockumentary's trademark is embarrassment. Sacha Baron Cohen unleashes an outrageous character on everyday unsuspecting folks to see how they'll react. The joke is supposed to be on the victims, but often it's Baron Cohen who bears the brunt.

Brüno is an Austrian male model and television host so outrageously gay as to make stage queens wish he would tone it done a bit. He wears skin-tight outfits of ridiculous hues and construction -- including one that is made entirely out of Velcro. This is at a huge fashion show, and of course he gets stuck to all the various bits of clothes and pushed out on stage.

This is delicate material. In trying to get a reaction out of peopleto such an absurd figure, Baron Cohen has to indulge in every caricature of homosexuality imaginable -- the lisping speech, an insatiable need to hit on straight men, an infatuation with trivialities likes clothes and sex toys. There's a scene where Brüno attempts to marry his assistant-cum-boyfriend, but it's played for yuks rather than making a statement.

All this is not to dismiss the funny parts of the film, which are many. The culmination is a scene where Brüno enters himself as a contestant in a cage-fighting event attended entirely by bloodthirsty hillbilly skinheads, and then proceeds to perform a make-out session with his opponent. The look on the audience's face is one of total shock and awe. They're so flabbergasted they don't even remember to be angry (for a while -- soon the emotions, and some fold-up chairs, get sent flying).

I very much enjoyed a section where Brüno gets invited to a swingers' party. He tries to act straight -- getting attacked by a female dominatrix is part of the mix -- but keeps gravitating back to the guys, even as they're in mid-coitus with women. They get very upset, and the idea of someone who regularly engages in group sex feeling shocked is pretty hilarious.

Another great bit is self-defense lessons from a gruff karate master. Brüno says he wants help in defending himself from a homosexual, and eventually the whole session devolves into a big smackdown fight with dildos.

Other parts, though, just fall flat. In one bit Brüno, in his never-ending quest to become famous, resolves to make a celebrity sex tape. Unfortunately, his choice of a target is then-presidential candidate Ron Paul. When Brüno drops trou on the unsuspecting congressman, the results are nails-on-chalkboard excruciating rather than funny.

Similarly, a hunting expedition with some good ole boys, with Brüno making a nude overture in the middle of the night, manages to make us feel sorry for the rednecks.

If you liked "Borat," I expect you'll like this new movie, since it's another helping from the same pot, with merely a different character running the show.

2.5 stars

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