Posted July 9, 2009 in Film

I’d swear Sacha Baron Cohen had balls of steel, if I hadn’t already seen them. (And seen the tip of his wiener shout, “Brüno!”—explain again how Cohen talked the MPAA down from an NC-17?) Cohen’s bumbling bigot Borat was an in-joke for the ironic who loved watching the non-HBO-watching men and women of America tangle with a jerk from Kazakhstan. But Brüno is a joke on the knowing. When the Eurotrash wonder lands in L.A. determined to be “the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler,” anonymity is out. (And when Brüno gets booed out of a fashion show, the real question is: Are they booing Brüno or Cohen?) What’s funny now is his determination to go beyond the clued-in’s limit. Paula Abdul’s people wouldn’t chauffeur her to an interview with an unknown, but there’s no preparation for being told to sit on a Mexican gardener while hitting softballs about your charity work. We finally suspect the answer to the was-she or wasn’t-she forewarning of Pamela Anderson in Borat: She was tipped off, but he went further. From the safety of our theater seats—and with the advance free will of purchasing a ticket—we’re still not safe. The character of Brüno used to hinge on his talent for getting the vapid to say outrageous offenses. (Here, canceled reality TV star Brittny Gastineau says that Jamie Lynn Spears’ baby would choose abortion over the womb of a D-lister.) Now, Brüno hinges on how uncomfortable we are watching a homosexual minstrel show; our PC excruciation is as crucial to the formula as the good ol‘ boys’ irritation when Brüno flounces naked into their hunting tent. Cohen is fearless and despite our refusal to embrace his grating Austrian, we’re still legitimately scared for his safety—especially when he wears hot pants around the Middle East and tells a Lebanese al-Asqa Martyrs’ Brigade leader through an interpreter that “King Osama looks like a homeless Santa Claus.” Though director Larry Charles keeps Borat’s mockumentary feel, we’re increasingly aware of the camera as the key to keeping Cohen safe. Even if the pranked don’t know that camera is shooting a worldwide release, they’re dimly aware that their wishful beatdown could wind up on YouTube. When a leather-thonged Brüno asks a sidewalk of Reverend Phelps protesters to help uncuff him from a naked man, what we’re expecting (violence) is less interesting than what happens (nothing—guess God’s not quite that angry at the gays). Brüno is a dumb character smartly played. Cohen knows that the way to enrage a stadium of ultimate fighting fans isn’t dry-humping a dude—it’s gently kissing his nipples. For making every single person with a pulse uncomfortable, Brüno is a fascinating future relic. And I hope that stage mothers like the one here who agrees to put her 30-pound toddler on a 10-pound diet will be just that: history.


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