There's only one phrase I can think of to describe "Bruno," the latest film from the very warped mind of Sacha Baron Cohen.
What the *&#* was he thinking?
Seriously, there are certain films that defy "review" and "Bruno" is one of them.
To describe "Bruno" as no-holds-barred is an understatement. There are times I found myself sitting in front of the screen mouthing the words "I can't believe he just did that," times I practically fell out of my chair laughing with tears streaming from my eyes and, yes, times I found myself thinking "Okay, that was too far."
At a slight 82 minutes that doesn't begin to feel that long, "Bruno" is a rapid-fire and relentless onslaught of Cohen taking his character of Bruno, a gay Austrian fashionista who's shamed out of Europe and into America when his all-velcro fashion experiment goes awry, and putting the beyond flamingly OUTrageous queen in the most uncomfortable of settings.
And we laugh.
Some of the settings in which Bruno finds himself are undeniably, uncomfortably real. Scenes that immediately come to mind include a jaw-droppingly hilarious interview with former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who pretty much destroys any chance he had of ever being taken seriously as a candidate, and a mind-numbingly spot-on scene in which Bruno finds himself trying to turn straight at the hands of two Christian "converters" of homosexuals, one of whom is observed to have perfect blow-job lips.
As I sit here, I'm again laughing almost to the point of tears.
Funny. Funny. Funny.
The joy of Sacha Baron Cohen is that he somehow manages to find that "It's okay to laugh" place in even the most frightening of situations. For example, one scene involves Bruno interviewing parents of babies/toddlers who may potentially star in a video with his newly adopted "African-American" son, O.J. While the set-up alone would be the stopping point for most films, in "Bruno" Cohen takes it a few hundred steps further by showing these absolutely frightening, yet obviously real, parents authorizing their children to use pyrotechnics, lose 1/3 of their body weight in one week, dress as Nazis and be strapped to a crucifix.
I'm not kidding.
What's more offensive? That Cohen takes "Bruno" there or that these parents, these very real parents, actually allow it to go there?
Where's Child Protective Services when you need them?
Then, there's a scene late in the film in which "straight" Bruno finds himself hosting a macho and straight wrestling match that ends going an entirely different direction in front of an obviously hostile and aggressive crowd.
Directed by Larry Charles, who also brought us "Borat," Bill Maher's "Religulous" and cable television's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Bruno" follows this pattern of outrageous skit after outrageous skit for its entire 82-minute running time, culminating in a decidedly tamer closing involving a charitable music video and such notables as Bono, Elton John, Chris Martin, Snoop Dogg, Sting and Slash.
As funny as is "Bruno," it definitely can be said that not all of the humor works and, unlike "Borat," the film feels disjointed and involves less compelling supporting characters. Bruno is accompanied throughout the film by his faithful man-servant/assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), whose supporting bits lacked the spice of the original film despite having scenarios that were even more extreme.
There's no denying, as well, that "Bruno" feels less fresh than did the humor of "Borat" with Cohen's willingness and ability to challenge and offend coming less as a surprise and, as a result, evoking less spontaneous humor.
The weird thing is that "Bruno" works the most when Cohen IS being the most offensive, not because these are necessarily the funniest scenes but because this is when it becomes readily apparent that beneath the humorous exterior there's something disturbingly insightful going on inside Cohen's head.
Why is the Ron Paul scene so funny and so disturbing? Because THIS scene only serves to validate the eerie feeling many of us had about his homophobia. To be fair, an awful lot of folks would be uncomfortable and resentful if put in the situation Paul finds himself in, but one can't help but think that a presidential candidate would have better self-control and simply remove himself from the situation.
The scene involving the parents auditioning their children?
Oh my, I laughed like a schoolgirl.
Now, I'm sitting at my keyboard thinking "What awful parents!"
Even when Bruno finds himself interviewing a Hollywood company that specializes in celebrity philanthropy, one can't help but be in awe of how frighteningly clueless these hottie do-gooders are as they help him explore philanthropic options.
Disturbing. Frighteningly insightful.
Time and again, I found myself laughing, shaking, staring, nodding, disbelieving and then, a few moments later, being utterly appalled by what I'd just viewed...NOT the character of "Bruno," but the everyday characters he encountered in his travels.
You've read the words time and again in this review...disturbing, funny, insightful and so much more. "Bruno" is fearlessly flawed, disjointed, uneven and chaotic.
As a film critic, I've never seen it as my job to decide which films you should see. With very few exceptions, my goal is always to help guide you towards your own decision and, hopefully, to entertain you with my writing a bit along the way. The easy statement would be "If you liked "Borat," then you'll enjoy "Bruno." The problem is, I'm not entirely sure that's true.
While the basic set-ups between the two films are similar and, of course, both characters were created by Cohen, "Bruno" feels like a very different beast of a film. "Bruno" is the kind of ballsy, in your face and fearless humor that was the hallmark of such comic legends as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor (before "The Toy," of course) and Bill Hicks. It's the kind of film that makes you laugh out loud in the theatre, then reflect thoughtfully hours later and go "Wow!"
Let me put it to you this way...
I've spent the vast majority of my life advocating for children, and I found Cohen's child-themed scenes offensive, insightful and freakin' hilarious.
I'm a Christian. I'm a minister. I found Cohen's take on Christianity and ministry disturbingly spot-on, offensive, insightful and funny.
I am not a terrorist.
But, yes, Cohen made fun of them, too.
You will laugh.
You will be offended.
You will be utterly astounded.
You will enjoy "Bruno" and be better (or worse) for it.
Should you go see "Bruno?"
I've given you all you really need to know.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic