The Popcorn Reel                                                                              
Friday, July 10, 2009 


Hung like a horse: Sasha Baron Cohen as gay Austrian fashionista Brüno, in Larry Charles's film of the same name.  (Photo: Universal Pictures)
Ja! Mein Ist Das Über Weiß Trashiest Spectakal In Da Überverse?!?!
By Omar P.L. Moore/   SHARE
Friday, July 10, 2009

Sasha Baron Cohen has fast become an unruly though welcome presence (at least in some quarters) on the Hollywood stage, pushing the buttons of American audiences just a little harder than his predecessors, and with Larry Charles's new film "Brüno", which crash-landed today across the U.S. and Canada, this enfant terrible refuses to put his toys away when told to do so.

Instead, he hurls them at you.

Some of the toys have been put in the naughtiest and nastiest places.

(Places where the sun "don't" shine.)

Those last few lines crystallize "Brüno", the mockumentary film about the self-titled gay Austrian fashion diva created and portrayed by Mr. Cohen.  Brüno has fast exhausted existence in the realm of Vogue etc. and decides to jet-set to the U.S., specifically Los Angeles, to achieve fame and fortune with a television show he's working on getting aired throughout the nation.  He is trying too hard to be famous, mimicking Madonna and the procession of high-profile white celebrities adopting black babies and the media's endless glorification of such as some kind of cabbage patch kids sensation or trend.  Brüno targets Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kevin Spacey in his quest to become an A-list Hollywood sensation and he does so in myriad amusing ways, none of which will be to the liking of the three actors.  Brüno does a lot of other things in between.  Brüno declares his undying sexual desire for black men in particular, and he emblazons this on the big screen within the film's first 30 seconds or so, as well as with more symbolically offensive motifs later.  If that's not enough, the audience has barely sat for a minute before the declaration "herpes free" in large print, appears on the screen. 

This tasteless spectacle is just the tip of the iceberg with "Brüno", and remarkably this salacious and cheeky satire executes wonderfully while offending the hell out of everybody and every group you can think of.  There's no safe haven for blacks, whites, Mexicans, Asians, Jewish people, Palestinians, people of faith, men, women, straights or gays -- although at the risk of great ignorance and worse stereotyping I would imagine that some gay people may enjoy this film a little more than other people might.  That prediction is made definitely not because of the abundant display of penises or simulated (and otherwise) anal sex acts, for that assumption would be far too cruel, bigoted, ignorant and narrow (forgive the pun.)  Some of the gay (and straight) community will enjoy "Brüno" precisely because the title character's leverage at confronting the straight population with its own homophobia and ignorance is astounding, astute, intelligent and dead-on target.  This, plus Mr. Cohen's intentionally sloppy but sharp satirical strengths and instincts are the very reasons that "Brüno" -- an often hilarious, laugh-out loud marathon of glam, disgusting and glorious -- works, and works well at that.  (With "Dance Flick" there was little satirical strength or bite; here, there's plenty of wild moments to chew on.)

The structure of Mr. Cohen's latest closely resembles his own creation "Borat", the film the "Brüno" advertisements declare "was so 2006".  Of course, that was the year "Borat" was released.  Like that film, this new one features a man from a country overseas who flies to America to examine and poke a lot of fun at it with the most drop-dead and shockingly offensive satirical episodes and devices possible.  Like "Borat", which was also directed by Mr. Charles -- he helmed last year's Bill Maher documentary "Religulous" -- in "Brüno" there's a trusty male sidekick to wrestle with.  The set pieces here are remarkably similar and equally simple.  In many respects however, "Borat" as a film and a character was very tame though sharper because the character was a bumbling ignoramus.  Brüno as a character is bumbling and more sophisticated but plays dumb, yet his physical energies as channeled by the talented Mr. Cohen know no boundaries.  Whether he's in Ali G mode (his HBO television character) confronting politicians in hotel rooms -- a variation on the U.S. senator Larry Craig's infamous airport bathroom behavior in 2008 -- or whooping it up in a couple of scenes which no film reviewer should give away, Mr. Cohen both exhausts and shatters the lines of incorrectness.  He knows how to make some of his quarry even more incorrect than he is at times, and this too is his genius.  He out-Springers Jerry Springer and he is as adept as Michael Moore at a certain choreography to his documentaries, building priceless moments whether authentic or manipulated.

"Brüno", like its so 2006 predecessor, is adept at keeping the viewer off balance, prodding and provoking thought and reaction from its audience, which will again wonder what is real and what isn't.  One celebrity is seen telling Brüno to "fuck off" -- it's pretty certain that this particular moment is real, and there are other moments in the film, including those right before and during the end credits, that are clearly orchestrated.  There are entire gray areas as well.  In this regard, "Brüno" is best seen in a packed movie theater because much of its charm and achievement is acquired via its discomfort level in the audience, whose dilemma about when to laugh and not laugh in mixed company will be severely tested.  While watching "Brüno" you really want to laugh at it and at Brüno himself, but you almost always end up laughing with it and him.  Seeing the film alone or in like-minded company will be dull by comparison, but the cameo appearances in the film are not.  The film chokes on its own provocative fumes in some moments and is dotted with emptiness.  Here's one line that will be received by the character Brüno in mixed fashion: "Brüno" may taste great at times, but it is less filling overall.

"Brüno" is more BBC-type humor than classic American satire, and will be right at home with the British public, whose own late legend Benny Hill showed the way for decades.  While "Brüno" may be tame stuff for the Brits, one has to wonder why the Motion Picture Association of America and the "Brüno" filmmakers didn't just go the extra mile.  The film is an undoubtedly appropriate "R" rating, but had a few black rectangles been removed from several scenes it would (and should) have been an NC-17.  Why not go all the way?  After all, Mr. Cohen takes Brüno as a character all the way.  Perhaps Mr. Cohen, a Brit who wrote the film with Mr. Charles among others, was concerned that some of the sex acts would overshadow the satire -- which is what Roger Ebert declared was the problem with "Bamboozled", Spike Lee's brilliant and biting satire on racism in the American television and movie industry.  "Brüno" had already received advance hype and interest, and it would have been difficult to believe that an NC-17 rating would have inhibited audiences from seeing it at the local multiplex.

One last thing: Mr. Cohen (who also had a small but effective role in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street" in 2007) can attribute some of his outrageous sketches to the vintage 1980s Eddie Murphy incarnations on a then-funny "Saturday Night Live".  Mr. Murphy's television characters were indelible, incisive, smart, offensive and riotous.  Mr. Cohen is also influenced by Dave Chappelle, whose own comedic genius is the stuff of legend.  You'd think that Mr. Chappelle would have done a feature-length film edition of his own (now disowned) Comedy Central cable television show. 

I can hear Brüno right now, saying: "Wass up!  Doze zwei ur schwartzen guys, ja!"

I can hear myself saying that "Brüno" is the most outrageously offensive orchestration of the year -- so very 2009.

"Brüno" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language.  In German, English and various other languages, with English subtitles.  The film's running time is one hour and 23 minutes. 

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