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Gay Deceiver: Brüno
Reviewed by Danyl McLauchlan
Brüno is no Borat. The most telling difference is in the voice – Borat’s clumsy accented English never wavered but every now and then Brüno’s lisping faux-Austrian inflection lapses into the very posh Oxbridge drawl of his creator Sacha Baron Cohen and the illusion behind the movie falters. Such a slip never befell Borat – a key ingredient to his success was that the performance was so overwhelming: it was easy to imagine we really were watching a presenter for Kazakh TV while he adventured across the US on a quest to meet Pamela Anderson and kidnap her in his Kazakh wedding sack.
Brüno is essentially the same movie retold – an outrageous foreigner is unleashed upon an unwitting line-up of ordinary Americans and minor celebrities. Like every joke it is less amusing the second time around. Baron Cohen and his director Larry Charles are aware of this and they go to extraordinary lengths to make sure their follow-up film is more offensive than the first. And it is: way, way more offensive; but that doesn’t make up for being a recycled joke that loses a lot with the retelling.
There is a plot, of a kind: Brüno has been fired from his fashion show on Austrian TV and decides to travel to Hollywood and become famous. In practise the film consists of random unrelated encounters stitched together via a voice-over narrative: Brüno tries to solve the Israel-Palestine crisis, joins the army, goes hunting, interviews a Republican politician, goes to a fashion show, attends a swingers evening and so on. Some of these vignettes are insightful, most are disgusting, a few are incredibly funny but a lot of them are dull. Borat was a rather lovable rogue (I still smile when I think about him at a feminist group beseeching one of the stone faced woman to “give me a big smile, pussycat”, or sternly demanding to know how a lady selling miniature figurines by the side of the road has shrunken people with gypsy magic, or, when some Southern redneck demands to know if he is a Muslim replying “No, I worship the Eagle”). Brüno, by contrast, is a lot less sympathetic. There are some amusing early scenes in which he mocks fashion designers, models and celebrity culture, but these subjects are hardly virgin territory for comedians; ditto the ‘gay converters’ that show up later on in the film.
Borat’s alien cluelessness encouraged people to open up and say outrageous, horrible things of their own volition; Brüno’s gimmick is that he is gay and talks about gay sex all the time. In the Brüno segments of The Ali G Show the character was used to devastating effect to mock homophobia and prejudice, but in the film Brüno’s behaviour is so unacceptable and outrageous that we sympathise with the film’s unwitting victims. If I were out camping in the wild and a naked Austrian guy tried to climb inside my tent at 3am I’d react in pretty much the same way the redneck hunters in Brüno do. The humour is also highly repetitive: if you think that referring to a certain bodily orifice as your Arschwitz is funny then Brüno is the film for you – that same joke gets regurgitated roughly every three to four minutes for the whole run-time of the movie.
And yet... when Brüno gets it right it really soars; at least three scenes had me rocking in my seat with laughter. I can’t remember the last time a film did that. The climax (I use the word advisedly) isn’t funny as such, but it is breathtaking: many of Brüno’s scenes make you wonder if they’ve been staged, the finale at a pro-wrestling match in Alabama seems all too real. The movie as a whole is disappointing and inferior to Borat. At eighty minutes it is still too long and it accomplishes the curious trick of being both offensive and boring. However the grace notes are as brilliant as anything Baron Cohen has even done and they carry the rest of the film, which is still worth seeing despite its many flaws.
» Larry Charles | USA | 2009 | 83 min | Featuring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alice Evans, Trishelle Cannatella, Sandra Seeling, Ben Youcef, Bono, Chris Martin, Elton John, Slash, Snoop Dogg, Sting, Paula Abdul, Harrison Ford. In cinemas now.