Is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno offensive or is it offensive to get offended? Or is the offense meant only for those taking offense? You can’t really think too hard about it, and in the case of this film, I’m not entirely sure what you’re supposed to feel. Much like Cohen’s last reality satire, Borat, the humor is in watching Cohen’s character act outrageously in front of disapproving folks. However, this time around it feels less like the film has a point to make and more like it’s just fun to mess with rednecks.
Bruno (Cohen) wants more than anything to be enormously famous, so he travels, along with his lovestruck assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), to America to seek his fortune as so many other gay Austrian fashion reporters have done before. Or not -- as even the folks in L.A.’s tolerance threshold for outrageous behavior isn’t enough to put up with the wanton displays of sexuality that Bruno parades in front of them. He tries being an extra on a TV show (Medium), flies to Jordan to try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attempts to get presidential nominee Ron Paul to make a sex tape with him and other, even worse ideas before he has the epiphany that to be a celebrity, he’ll need to become straight.
Bruno is at its best when it’s a satire of the cult of celebrity. A sequence in which Cohen interviews a clueless Paula Abdul and has her use Mexican laborers as furniture is brilliant (and according to Abdul’s publicist, left her emotionally ‘scarred’). Bruno slays when it mocks the quest for fame at all costs, even bringing some big names in on the joke with him (most surprising of which is Snoop Dogg, who arguably has the funniest line in the entire film). Even more outrageous than a dancing, speaking penis sequence, the most shocking scene in the film involves Bruno interviewing the parents of wannabe celebrity children, getting them to agree to things like liposuction for their toddlers as long as they’re cast. When Bruno is functioning on this level, Cohen exposes the ugliest side of our fame-driven culture in an enlightening and disturbing fashion. Unfortunately, most of the time Cohen’s just waving his banana hammock in people’s faces and throwing gay stereotypes so brutishly into the faces of obvious homophobes that comedically, it just isn’t challenging. Borat played more effectively with its victims' sense of impropriety.
The release is packed with over an hour of deleted, extended and alternate versions of scenes, most notably two other versions of the "Mexican furniture" interviews -- one with baseball great Pete Rose, which isn’t funny at all, and one with La Toya Jackson, which most certainly is but was cut when her brother Michael died shortly before the release of the film. The bonus that adds an entire extra star to my rating is the video commentary with Cohen and director Larry Charles, who go into incredible detail (even stopping the film at points so they can finish telling a story) as to how they actually pulled all this off -- and all the times they almost didn’t. Even if the humor in Bruno isn’t particularly to your taste (and there really should be some kind of penis/faux-penis countdown or something for those more squeamish to the one-eyed wonder-worm), it’s hard not to be impressed at the sheer bravery of these men, getting themselves into situations that feel more like a suicide attempt than a comedy film.
Cohen has become the master of provoking a reaction. It’s too bad that after this film and the enormous worldwide success of Borat, he’s probably now too recognizable to pull it off again. Bruno might very well be the last hurrah for this kind of humor from him. Along with the addition scenes cut for time and the astonishing true-stories commentary, this is worth going back for a second look.
Buy It, Rent It or Forget It? - Rent It!
Release Date: November 17th, 2009
BONUS FEATURES (DVD AND BLU-RAY™ HI-DEF):
• An hour of Alternative, Deleted and Extended Scenes not shown in theaters
• Enhanced Commentary – Hear in depth stories for selected scenes from Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles.
• An Interview with Hollywood Agent Lloyd Robinson – Get the story behind Brüno’s real Hollywood agent.