Friday, July 10, 2009
Comedy Is Dead Review: BRUNO
When it was announced last year that Sacha Baron Cohen had planned to follow up on his monstrously popular Borat movie with a similar film starring Bruno, his hyper-gay Austrian TV host character from Da Ali G Show, most discerning folks were cautious. On one hand, like Borat, the original segments from the TV series featuring Bruno were hilarious and shocking and did what great comedy often sets out to do, which is to expose something fundamental about humanity.
On the other hand, the Borat movie was about a half hour too long and did one of the worst things that great comedy never sets out to do: launch annoying catchphrases and a voice your coworkers think they can “do”.
Fortunately for all of us, The Bruno film features no real catchphrases of note and you probably won’t hear people straining to imitate Baron Cohen’s German accent. The bad news? It’s still about a half hour too long, and doesn’t seem to have a reason to exist.
See, the central conceit of Baron Cohen’s films is that the character he’s playing is a ludicrous stereotype, a sort of golem molded from the worst nightmares of your average American Neoconservative – here, a shallow, fame-obsessed flaming gay dude with ridiculous fashion sense and a supermodel’s pout. These characters are supposed to encourage reactions from people that show just how bigoted and intolerant they really are underneath the razor-thin layer of Generic American Niceness that permeates society. In Borat, it mostly worked; that film had a number of incredibly funny and shocking sequences that cleverly exposed just how many Americans really feel about brown-skinned foreigners, and came out at a time when such revelations felt fresh, especially given the political and social climate at the time.
Bruno, on the other hand, feels like a joke you’ve been told a hundred times before you even enter the theater; the first half or so satirizes shallow celebrity culture, and the second half focuses on reactions to Bruno’s gayness by the American south. You already know how both of these scenarios are going to play out; people in Los Angeles are going to be mind-blowingly dumb and shallow, and the southerners are going to be a bunch of easily-spooked bigoted homophobic assholes who just can’t handle Bruno. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve basically seen the film, minus all the pornographic sight gags.
The biggest problem, however, is how staged the entire thing feels. There are a few sequences where the scenarios and reactions feel legitimate, but the polished visuals and scene construction are just way too perfect to deliver the kind of “guerilla-social-commentary-via-pranking-rubes” vibe that was present in the TV series and throughout most of the first film. In Bruno, it feels like way too many people are in on the joke and are playing along, and that’s just not as much fun.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have more than a few funny moments. One sequence in particular involves Bruno interviewing stage moms to find babies to pose with his new adopted African baby in a series of scandalous photos, and the situations they agree to put their children in are terrifying and uncomfortably hilarious. It’s one of the only places where the film feels “real” and gets close to finding the same shock and edge and danger that Borat had. Mostly, Bruno is just crude, telling you things you already know, every now and then offering a laugh. By the time you’re watching Bruno and his assistant strip eachother down and make out in an octagonal cage while a crowd of angry duped rednecks throw beers at them, you may find yourself asking what the point of all this is.