Flamboyant gay Austrian fashionista Brüno (Sacha Baron Cohen) takes his show, Funkyzeit, to America - and arrives in Los Angeles accompanied by his lovelorn assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), to become a celebrity. It's not as easy as he thinks, so he hits on the idea of manufacturing interest in himself by adopting a black baby, and later by getting professional guidance to go straight. He even tries cage wrestling, with surprising results.
Review by Louise Keller:
A jiggling penis that mouths his name, anal bleaching, kinky sex, swingers at play, black and white dildos and every offensive gay sexual innuendo imaginable all form part of Brüno's foreplay. Sacha Baron Cohen's self-acclaimed Austrian Jesus Fashionista and the White Obama is out to shock and the content is outrageous, distasteful, politically and racially incorrect, self-indulgent with occasionally funny ideas. Whether Cohen's style of humour - or lack of it - is your idea of a good time or not, the vulgar thrust of the film comes from the integration of his staged perversions with the spontaneous reactions of perceived real people from different walks of life. This was the case with Borat, and here, the formula remains the same. Personally, I watched in superficial fascination, chuckled a couple of times, quickly became bored and found the 80 minute running time dragged like a one-note self-important joke that outstays its welcome.
Cohen seems to have a fascination with gay sex. In Borat, there was an overlong in-your-face nude romp between two men in a hotel room. Here, there's a similar sado-masochistic frolic in a hotel, counselling from a 'gay converter' preacher (Brüno wants tips to become 'Schtrait', like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kevin 'Schpacey'), self-defence karate classes holding / wearing dildos and a contemptible cage-wrestling gay seduction before a disbelieving, hostile Arkansas crowd to Titanic's theme song. There's also a brutally convincing mime scene involving oral sex (Marcel Marceau would be appalled). Whether or not the onlookers are really innocents (or well-directed actors purporting to be ordinary people) is the ultimate curiosity, but either way, our eyes are drawn to their reactions as they respond to Brüno's antics. Especially in the scene when the attention-seeking failed TV fashion host, now seeking celebrity through a worthwhile cause, makes his bid for Middle East peace (Middle Earth, he calls it) between the Palestinians and the Israelis. To whom is he talking, when he suggests Osama Bin Laden is a dirty wizard or a homeless Santa?
Brangelina has done it, as has Madonna. So why not Brüno? Yes, there is the black-baby adoption, which leads into an OJ joke, stringing up a black baby on a crucifix and using a baby as a dick magnet. Cohen doesn't care how low he stoops. Everything and anything is fair game in search of a laugh accessory. That Schwarzenegger Austrian accent wavers horribly as we journey through casting agents, army barracks, TV talk shows and a self-inflicted 'carbocide'. In my book, the funniest concept comes by way of using Mexican gardeners as armchairs (Paula Abdul is interviewed sitting on the back of a moustachioed Mexican on all fours). It becomes a running joke too, leading into the final climactic end scene, which I won't spoil, except to say, Elton John, Bono and Sting are part of it.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Where Borat was an innocent abroad, Brüno is just broad; Sacha Baron Cohen makes Brüno the self centred and self obsessed centre of the film, which is not so much a story as a series of sketches designed to shock, disgust and outrage. And while it is certainly crude and vulgar and occasionally outrageous, the film has no heart and the jokes are mostly stunts. There are stunts with seemingly 'real' characters, ranging from army boys to a homosexual counsellor who can straighten gay men, thanks to Jesus, and even a staged reality TV talk show where Brüno is an offensive guest. Offensive to the black American live audience, in front of whom he parades his adopted black toddler son.
The skewering of celebrity seeking has been done so frequently now it has lost its 'best by' freshness date, and the focus on homosexuality as a wellspring for Brüno's jokes wears pretty thin pretty quickly. Hence the compensatory shock value of stunts such as pygmy boyfriend with champagne bottle stuck up his bum, or the extended routine at a tarot reader who is channelling an ex boyfriend, to whom Brüno (graphically) does everything sexually imaginable, all in mime, since the ex is 'on the other side' now.
Baron Cohen also tries hard to offend the Christians with auditions for toddlers who would play Jesus and the two thieves, strung up on crosses. The black toddler in the middle as Jesus ... the image has a bizarre quality, but the sequence is only satirical while the desperate parents agree for their kids to go through anything just to get the gig, even the most life threatening and demeaning possibilities. This is the one sequence that has any satirical value, apart from the climactic scene in which Brüno achieves his dream of celebrity by doing what Baron Cohen himself has tried to so: shock and outrage the audience. But in this latter instance, the parody target is Brüno himself - perhaps unintentionally.
If there was genuine humour in many of the scenes, it has been well and truly squeezed out by the time they made it to the screen. Perhaps the Brüno persona is not as malleable as Borat; he's certainly less likeable on any level, and his twee mannerisms sit astride a bloated ego which has never been fed with anything to justify it. The use of ordinary people (and some staged sequences) doesn't help; these scenes seem exploitative and / or fake. For example, when Brüno tries to achieve celebrity status by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian 'leaders', the lame result is less comedic than plain silly.
Where say, Garry McDonald and Barry Humphries managed this sort of interface between their fictional personas - Norman Gunston and Edna Everage - and real people in search of comedy, they also searched for some insight or some truth. For those who are shocked into laughter by dildos as martial arts training props, Brüno is a great escape. Perhaps we can now look forward to Baron Cohen's reincarnation as the imaginary bisexual Bjorn from Sweden, the world's next pop singing sensation. Or not.
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CAST: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Banagale, Chibundu Orokwowu, Chigozie Orokwowu, Josh Meyers, Bono, Chris Martin, Elton John, Slash, Snoop Dogg, Sting
PRODUCER: Sacha Baron Cohen, Monica Levinson, Dan Mazer, Jay Roach
DIRECTOR: Larry Charles
SCRIPT: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony Hardwick, Wolfgang Held
EDITOR: Scott M. Davids, James Thomas
MUSIC: Erran Baron Cohen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Butts, Denise Hudson, David Saenz de Maturana
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 8, 2009