Thursday, July 23, 2009

Schlock and Awe

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2009 at 6:59 PM

If the umlat in Brüno isn’t a testicle joke, it’s the only part of the movie not making a gratuitous genital reference. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno plays sloppy seconds to Borat’s rude, in your face pranks and tops it with an orgy of sight gags and innuendo. It’s hard to imagine a porn movie that’s called for or used this much sexual paraphernalia. In one long sequence, Brüno and another man wake up shackled together in a hotel room amid a sex addict’s catalog of far flung fetishes (bondage, furries, sex machines, etc.). The hotel staff’s shock is as priceless as the benign pity and dismay expressed by police officers who eventually help separate the guys -- after they have been kicked out of the hotel and board a public bus.

 

In Borat, Cohen turned wildly politically incorrect stunts and flaunting of taboo and social graces into a form of performance art. He never winked at the camera or took the pressure off his subjects. The naïve but good-natured faux Kazakhstani reporter duped people into comfortably believing the worst stereotypes about citizens of less developed, far away countries. He left plenty of room for debate as to whether he was endorsing bigotry or exposing it.

 

In Brüno, Cohen undertakes the same journey to America, this time as a flamboyantly gay, idiot savant Austrian fashionista, ignorant of everything except couture and his own cartoonishly narcisssitic sexuality. The film is not for the easily offended, but most of it is both stunningly outrageous and hilarious.

 

To a much greater degree than Borat, Brüno wants to get right in his unsuspecting victim’s faces and make them uncomfortable. It’s funny when he upends a Milan fashion show or convinces Paula Abdul to sit on human furniture for an interview. The film, however, doesn’t follow a story so much as string together a series of gags about Brüno’s quest to become famous. In the last half hour, he abandons the premise and pursues pranks targeting ordinary people. Perhaps the counselor who claims to cure homosexuals deserves the attention. But many of the bits do nothing to expose homophobia and instead showcase Cohen’s amazing calm as he tries to get under peoples’ skin. Enlisting a karate instructor to show him how to fend off homosexuals goes too long but remains funny purely through the goodwill of the trainer. A rural hunting trip has funny moments, but ultimately it is a cruel joke on the three guides who tire of it quickly. Cohen’s willingness to put himself in volatile situations is impressive and it keeps audiences rapt. He meets his deserving match at a swingers’ party when a bleached blond amazon dominatrix doesn’t care about his orientation. Perhaps her abuse is poetic justice, but the film has no greater purpose other than to solidify Cohen’s place as Hollywood’

s top agent provocateur.

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