NO, BRUNO, NO!
I’ve been looking forward to seeing BRUNO for over a year now, ever since I heard what Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to BORAT was going to be. Having first become a fan of Cohen’s back when HBO aired his British comedy show, DA ALI G SHOW, I was well-acquainted with his three main characters – ALI G – a clueless white rapper who often interviewed unsuspecting politicians and religious leaders, BORAT – the journalist from Kazakhstan who just about everybody knows now that he starred in his own film a couple of years ago, and BRUNO, the gay fashion reporter from Austria whose speciality is making homophobic people very umcomfortable.
While Cohen has been famous in America for a few years now, he was huge in Britain before we’d even heard of him, so much so that his character Ali G got his own movie ALI G IN DA HOUSE back in 2002. You can catch it now on late-night cable, and it’s pretty bad. Instead of focusing on what made the character so funny – having him interact with real people – the ALI G movie instead gave us a fictionalized account of Ali G’s every day life, his friends and his family, and while there are a few funny moments, it’s mostly an elongated sitcom.
BORAT (2006), by comparison, got the concept right. Like the TV show, the movie’s strength was the reactions of real people as they come into the orbit of the very convincing Borat. Cohen totally stays in character throughout (it’s rumored he even went so far as to not shower during filming) and we get to see real people let their guard down around a character who they believe is a complete idiot.
So what about BRUNO? The concept seems like a home run. Another hilarious character from DA ALI G SHOW, Bruno was funny as hell in the bits he appeared in. And once again we have Cohen teamed with director Larry Charles who directed BORAT. And we have more unsuspecting real people in the mix.
But for some reason, BRUNO just isn’t all that funny.
If BORAT was five-star comedy gold, then BRUNO is a 2-star disappointment (okay, maybe two and a half tops). Let’s look at some reasons why:
1) We’ve already seen the best scenes – like most trailers, the BRUNO trailer gives away just about every truly funny scene in the movie. If you’ve seen the trailer a few times and you go to see the movie, you’re not going to get much in the way of surprises, and you’re not going to laugh all that hard at scenes you’ve already laughed at a dozen times.
2) The thrill is gone. With BORAT, nobody had any idea what was going on. Cohen was able to catch people totally with their guards down. Now, in BRUNO, everybody seems on edge and suspicious. And, during one particularly uncomfortable scene where Bruno hits on politican Ron Paul, the whole set-up seemed very creepy. Another scene, where Bruno goes hunting with some rednecks, also seems painfully tedious, because it’s obvious the guys are aware of what’s going on, and they just sit there, hoping for it to be over. Although there is one scene involving the hunters, and Cohen running around nude, that is a hilarious high point.
3) Way, way too many staged scenes. There’s the intro where Bruno tells us about how he got fired from his show in Vienna. There is the incredibly fake talk show (with Richard Bey standing in for Jerry Springer). There are all of the scenes with his assistant, Lutz. There is just way too much fake stuff this time around, and that is when Cohen’s material at its weakest. Sure, there were some staged scenes in BORAT, too, but they didn’t seem so obvious, and they didn’t bring the movie to a grinding halt.
And a segment where Bruno adopts a black baby is funny, but you don’t believe for a minute that anyone buys into it as a real story.
I wanted to laugh non-stop. But the laughs were fewer and far between than I expected. And where I thought the movie might make some real strong satirical comments about homophobia, instead we just get the same old jokes over and over again.
One segment that was really funny, though, involved a focus group that watched Bruno’s TV pilot. The people in the room seemed real enough, and their reactions to his insane show (with lots of male nudity) were pretty hilarious. So yeah, there are some good parts. Just not enough of them.
I still think Cohen is a genius, but if, like me, you’re a big fan, I say you’re probably better off waiting for the DVD. BRUNO isn’t a total dud. There are a few very funny moments. But it’s not the masterpiece it should have been, either. Not by a long shot.