The “Bruno” press assault has finally left town (but don’t worry, in a few years when Sacha Baron Cohen disguises himself as a Brazilian woman to expose the prejudices against the opposite sex in “Bertha” the same media blitzkrieg will take place) and I can’t help but be simultaneously smug and disappointed in its wake.
I was siding more with the, “Bruno looks like a massive, counter-intuitive beast” crowd that held their expectations for the film in check while the rest of the world seemed to fawn over Cohen, with the progressively gaudier premiers and increasingly bland talk show appearances (until he gave up the Bruno act altogether to appear on “The Late Show with David Letterman”). But in the back of my head, I held the expectation that despite my snooty disbelief that lightning could strike twice after the brilliance of “Borat,” the film would jump out and pleasantly surprise me.
But it didn’t. That’s not to say that “Bruno” is completely without merits (it’s just not worth paying for). There are sheltered moments of brilliance, whether it be two identically vapid Los Angeles blondes idiotically trying to offer PR support for starting a charity, the degenerate nature of stage parents or homosexual converters. These snippets all share a common thread, one that reveals the film’s fundamental flaw.
When Cohen is at his best, he manages to sneak into the background, despite the ridiculousness of his character, and make those subjected to his behavior take the limelight, via their own preposterous nature. For all of the fuss that’s made about his stunts, the moments in which he serves as a bizarre straight man to the preposterous everyday man where his work creates the greatest impact.
Unfortunately, much of “Bruno” is focused around the title character, who is irritating, invasive and routinely unfunny. Of course, the character is supposed to be a annoying, air-headed waste, but Borat was an anti-semitic, callous anti-feminist, and he was bizarrely endearing. That, I think, was thanks to the way in which Borat was portrayed as a product of his environment much more so then Bruno, and that deep down, the viewer has no problem believing that no matter how many Jew eggs he seeks to smash, Borat is a pretty nice guy, he’s just strange by our standards.
It must also be mentioned that “Bruno” ultimately feels like the work of another studio trying to remake the success of “Borat.” The way in which the two films don’t just share similar story elements and arcs, but have the same progression is ultimately inexcusable. No one’s asking for brilliant script here, the strength of the comedy lies in the unscripted moments, but “Bruno’s” story is the same as its predecessor, and along with reeking of a lack of effort, it left me leaving the theater a bit bitter.
“Borat” was a film born from madness, from a twisted delight in seeing various groups squirm in the face of the bizarre and audiences shrink back from hairy, naked man-on-man wrestling through hotel hallways. It was a film that succeeded to the degree it did against all odds. Let’s remember that “Borat” opened in only 837 theaters. I rode about 40 minutes to see it on opening day, to a jam-packed theater that did not cease laughing. “Bruno” opened in 2,756 theaters.
“Bruno” is a film created for fiscal gain, by a studio whose summer release calendar desperately needed a buzz-worthy film, especially after realizing that “Land of the Lost” was set to be their great white hope. Despite its slapping, buoyant male nudity and early montage of toe-curling sex acts, “Bruno” has the fingerprints of studio intervention all over it. The removal of a scene with LaToya Jackson notwithstanding (since when has Cohen actually been concerned about poor taste and other such niceties?) the main thrust of “Bruno” is not its humor, its the “Fear Factor” feel to the film. Studio executives saw “Borat” and being as dumb as they usually are, thought that the key to its success was its controversy-inducing depictions of nudity and not its sly, subversive wit.
So “Bruno” is, to put it simply, mostly a serious of scenes in which Cohen tries to one-up his own boundary-pushing, instead of trying to elevate his own sizable comedic wit. The key to “Borat” was whether or not the situations would make the audience laugh, while the evident key to its counterparts worst moments is whether or not the film will make people cringe in their seats, comedy be damned.