Review: Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat follow-up

Directed by Larry Charles. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Josh Meyers, Bono, Chris Martin, Elton John, Slash, Snoop Dogg, Sting, Paula Abdul, Richard Bey, Harrison Ford, Ron Paul. Written by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Mazer & Jeff Schaffer.

Sacha Baron Cohen stars as the flamboyantly homosexual titular character – the “most famous gay Austrian since Arnold Schwarzenegger” – in Larry Charles´ Brüno, which is very, very funny, on a number of different levels: parody, slapstick, satire, and most memorably, bad taste. Unlike Cohen and Charles´ Borat, however, which had a genuine story, Brüno is a rather loose collection of gags akin to Cohen´s Da Ali G Show or the Jackass movies. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Brüno is the 19-year-old host of the popular Austrian TV show Funkyzeit mit Brüno, until he disgraces himself with a Velcro suit that sticks to everything at Fashion Week. After breaking up with his pygmy Filipino flight attendant boyfriend (who looks no older than 13) he flees to the US with trailing assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) to become famous. This is all told – rather haphazardly – in a five minute prologue.

The rest of the film is fast and loose: a series of setups and skits that follow Brüno to Hollywood and through America, where he meets: a talent agent, a mystic, some image consultants, talk show host Richard Bey and an outraged all-black audience, Christian homosexual “curers”, the military, some Alabama hunters, Ron Paul, and a few celebrities including Paula Abdul and briefly – in one of the film´s funniest scenes, exquisitely set up – Harrison Ford.

Now, Borat was a lovable lug that would endear himself to middle-Americans and subtly expose their xenophobia. Brüno, on the other hand, is such an explicit parody of a flamboyant homosexual – intended to offend on first sight – that the reactions he generates feel normal: the subjects espouse not necessarily homophobia, but a fear of Brüno specifically.

And so, when Ron Paul hisses “queer!” after Brüno awkwardly attempts to seduce him in a hotel room, well, there´s no surprises there. Nor when Brüno provokes an arena full of wrestling fans by ending a fight with a passionate makeout session. They throw plastic cups and folding chairs into the ring; what did we expect?

Thankfully, the success of Brüno doesn´t hinge on any social statements, and many of the rubes here are perfectly capable of making fools of themselves without any provocation. Memorable sequences include the airheaded image consultants and Hollywood parents desperately trying to get work for their toddlers (“Can she lose 5 pounds in a week?” and “Is he comfortable working with pyrotechnics?” are met with agreement.)

And Brüno himself is genuinely funny: Cohen has wonderful comic timing, even more impressive in these partially improvised skits, and I found all the German-accentuated Nazi stuff – thrown in off-the-cuff – to be bad-taste hilarious, whether it´s Brüno´s “arsechwitz” or a rundown of a list of celebrities: Wilhelm Schmitt, Stevie Wunderbar, Bradolf Pittler.

Explicit and sometimes uncomfortable to watch, the film had to be trimmed to receive an R rating in the US, which by no means makes it acceptable for mainstream audiences. You´ll know if you can take it early enough, with scenes focusing on the sexual practices of Brüno and his pygmy boyfriend involving a bottle of champagne and a modified exercise bike that borrows from one of the best gags in the Coen Bros.´ Burn After Reading.

Cohen has now made three films featuring the three characters he originated on the Da Ali G Show: Ali G Indahouse, an attempt to make a straight film and the weakest of the three, Borat, a cross of the show and a straight film, and now Brüno, which mostly returns to the format of the show. Borat is still the most successful of the three, but I think Brüno might be the funniest.

A brief segment featuring Latoya Jackson was cut from the finished film after the death of her brother Michael. Minus credits, Brüno is less than 80 minutes in length.

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Also opening is the Czech comedy Veni, Vidi, Vici (showtimes), from director Pavel Göbl, which is screening in Czech without subtitles.

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