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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.69%
Worth A Look29.41%
Just Average29.41%
Pretty Crappy: 5.88%
Sucks: 19.61%

5 reviews, 21 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"It's Loud And Tasteless And I've Heard It Before"
1 stars

Although I liked “Borat,” the surprise smash hit that vaulted British humorist Sacha Baron Cohen from a cult figure into an international sensation, enough to recommend it, I could never quite get behind the notion being pushed at the time that both the film and Cohen had somehow transcended the bounds of contemporary comedy and had revolutionized it forever. For one thing, unlike truly revolutionary comedies like “The Great Dictator,“ “Dr. Strangelove” or even “Airplane,“ the film was basically a clever reconfiguration of a couple of familiar comedic conceits (the basic fish-out-of-water idea combined with the “Candid Camera” concept of watching ordinary people reacting to extraordinary situations) and Cohen’s basic shtick--a Dadaist approach in which he interacts with the public in the guise of a singularly strange alter ego that he refuses to break from no matter how hairy or weird the situation becomes--is essentially the same thing that the late, great Andy Kaufman was professionally crucified for doing a quarter-century earlier. The other problem, one that didn’t sink in until after the film had already been released, is that while it was funny enough the first time you saw it, “Borat” contained virtually none of the replay value of a truly great comedy like those I mentioned above. After watching it a second time and being struck by how awkward it suddenly seemed, it struck me that “Borat” was closer to being more like a mainstream version of the infamous John Waters epic “Pink Flamingos”--it was funny enough the first time around in an oh-my-God-I can’t-believe-I’m seeing-this sense but once the initial shock value burned away, there really wasn’t much of anything else left to hold on to afterwards.

Instead of using the considerable clout that he earned as a result of the massive international success of “Borat” to come up with some new and unique, he chose instead to go back to the well and do pretty much the same thing he did with the earlier film--he took the lone remaining character that he developed for his cult favorite cable TV series “Da Ali G Show” and plunked him in yet another loosely constructed vehicle in which he would go around and try to provoke reactions from ordinary people with his deranged antics and capture the fun on hidden cameras. My guess is that when the news of this project got out, some of his most ardent supporters were probably disappointed to learn that he was essentially going to be repeating himself instead of spreading his artistic wings by doing something different. However, that is nothing compared to the disappointment that they are likely to be feeling after seeing his latest creation, the amazingly witless “Bruno.” Pretty much a clone of “Borat” from start to finish, this is an unpleasant mess that displays none of the charms of the previous film while magnifying all of it flaws. For those who have been trying to push the “Cohen is a genius” line for the last couple of years, this film is bad enough to cause a sudden and complete reappraisal for that kind of thinking and for those who have thought otherwise, it is proof positive that the emperor has no clothes, a fact that he seems depressingly eager to demonstrate throughout.

For those of you who never got around to watching “Da Ali G Show,” Bruno is an outrageously fey Austrian fashionista who is the host of what he proudly describes as the most popular German language fashion TV show not actually airing in Germany. After making the ill-advised decision to show up backstage at a runway show in an outfit made entirely out of Velcro gets him fired from his show and blackballed from the entire European fashion industry, Bruno decides that the only thing left for him to do is to come to America and become an international celebrity, At first, he tries to make it the old fashioned way by become a big-time actor but when a gig as an extra on “Medium” ends disastrously, he decides to produce his own talk show to sell to American television, a move that allows us to see such unexpected sights as Paula Abdul talking about her humanitarian work while sitting on a Mexican day laborer being utilized as furniture, Brittney Gastineau discussing the quality of Jamie-Lynn Spears’ fetus and Harrison Ford making his most memorable screen appearance in years. When this falls apart, he hits upon the idea of doing humanitarian work to get his name out there--in his case, however, humanitarian works consists of trying to bring Palestine and Israel together (which fails when he fails to notice a difference between Hamas and hummus) and adopting an African baby (whom he swapped an iPod for and bestowed the traditional African-American name of O.J.). When this two goes gunny, he decides that the only thing left for him to do is renounce his homosexuality and go straight, a decision that takes him to a couple of creepy guys who specialize in so-called conversions, a hunting trip, a brief sojourn in the National Guard and a swingers party before he turns up as the host of an ultra-manly cage fighting match in Arkansas that turns unexpectedly when a figure from his past--hopelessly adoring former assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten)--turns up in the ring for some man-on-man action of a different type.

“Bruno” is a film that stumbles so quickly and so badly right out of the gate that it almost comes as a shock to learn many of the people behind “Borat,” including director Larry Charles, were also responsible for this one--for the most part, it plays like a knockoff made by a couple of drunken frat boys for the amusement of themselves and, to an incredibly lesser extent, their loved ones. For starters, while “Borat” had a reasonably solid premise at its core--an ambitious foreigner comes to America to learn about our ways and nail Pamela Anderson--from which the comedy came forth, “Bruno” is so scattershot in its approach that it comes across more like a bunch of half-baked ideas jammed together than an actual storyline. The basic premise of a gauche and clueless faux-celebrity trying to make himself into a gauche and clueless real celebrity is not very interesting--can there actually be anyone out there who takes the notion of the contemporary obsession with celebrity seriously enough to be taken aback by the jokes made at its expense here? As for the rest, the various detours that the film takes along the way are either bad ideas from the start (like his stint with the hunters and the National Guard), intriguing ideas that are either badly executed (such as his peacemaking efforts in the Middle East) or so estranged from everything else that they appear to have arrived from another and possibly better film. The prime example of this is a scene in which he supposedly is casting a photo shoot involving small children and is interviewing their parents about what they will and won’t do--the joke being the horrifying things that the parents are apparently willing to subject their own offspring to in the hopes that they will be able to book the job. It is a funny scene--one of the few such moments in the film--but it has nothing to do with anything else on display.

This borderline incoherent approach also extends to the humor itself. The basic comedic conceit of the film appears to be that most Americans are homophobic at their core and no matter what accepting face they show on the surface, they will revert to this kind of thinking when threatened by the presence of an in-your-face homosexual. Okay, this isn’t exactly the boldest comedic premise of all time (if you wanted to demonstrate that, all you would need to do is show footage of the debacle surrounding California’s Prop. 8 last fall) but it is one that is promising enough,. However, instead of challenging the beliefs of those who pride themselves on being moderate and tolerant on ways that could come across as genuinely provocative, the film takes the easy way out by placing Bruno among the type of people who are pretty much guaranteed to blow their lids at the slightest trace of homosexual behavior and asking us to laugh as they yell and sputter at him. A little of this goes a long, long way and after a while, even those who find this stuff funny will find themselves wishing that the film had tried something different--why not put Bruno amongst a group of genuine militant gays to see how his sexual shucking-and-jiving plays among them? Beyond that, most of the humor is devoted to shocking viewers with one incredibly scatological joke after another but the problem there is that the film tries so hard cross the line over and over that you can practically taste the flopsweat, among other fluids. For example, the film tries to one-up the infamous “Borat” nude wrestling scene with an equally ribald and even more graphic montage of anal sex wackiness with all manner of objects being stuck where the sun don’t shine and gives us two Hitler jokes all before the end of the first reel. This is bad enough, in the sense that none of it is particularly funny (with the possible exception of the first Hitler joke), but it get even worse as it then spends the next hour or so trying (and largely failing) to top those moments.

As with “Borat,” much of the alleged appeal of “Bruno” comes from the fact that most of the film supposedly consists of Cohen interacting with people who aren’t in on the joke in situations that are supposed to mostly be unfolding right before our eyes as they happen. Although there were a few stagy moments in “Borat,” the conceit held up for the most part--thanks in no small part to the deliberately raggedy visual scheme--and lent an extra edge to some of the best moments. “Bruno” tries to pull off the same trick a second time but it doesn’t work nearly as well this time around because nearly all of the scenes come across as staged. Take the wacky scene with Paula Abdul sitting on the Mexican guy while prattling on about her charity work. Even if you don’t know the day-to-day details of contemporary celebrity life, you probably know that she pays a lot of money to a staff of people whose job is to make sure that she doesn’t sit on a Mexican guy while blithely discussing her charity work and as a result, the scene rings false. To make matters worse, it is staged so poorly that even if everything happened exactly as it is shown and Paula Abdul really sat unawares on a Mexican day laborer, it doesn’t matter because it feels fake. That sense permeates virtually every scene in the film--we are so busy trying to figure out who is in on the scene and to what degree that it just becomes distracting. In a normal comedy, this wouldn’t matter much but since the whole conceit of the film is based on the conceit that it is more or less real, the blatant staginess of most of the scenes (not helped at all by the slick visual style employed throughout). If I had to guess, I would surmise that they tried to shoot the film in the same guerilla manner as “Borat,” quickly realized that their targets were a lot more savvy this time around and scrambled to come up with more controllable scenes so that they could finish things up in a slightly coherent manner. (Although I wouldn’t watch “Bruno” again at gunpoint, I would like to see the presumably huge amount of deleted scenes to get an idea of just how much had to be cut because people caught on to what was happening.)

Speaking on things that are unbelievable, the final nail in the coffin of “Bruno” is Bruno himself. Despite his often outrageous behavior, the character of Borat worked because he came across as a reasonably plausible person--since the average person he encountered presumably had no working knowledge of the realities of Kazakhstan, they were more likely to believe in him even after things began to get weird--and because, for all of his loathsome beliefs and qualities, he still managed to retain a certain likeability and naivety despite everything that allowed audiences to still root for him even after handing out bags of his poop. Bruno, on the other hand, is a one-dimensional pain-in-the-ass from the get-go that he overwhelms the proceedings in all the wrong ways. He is so obnoxious, in fact, that he winds up subverting the film’s comedic conceit--instead of watching people shrink away from him because he is flamboyantly gay, they shrink away from him in the same way that you would shrink away from any nut job that you might happen to run across on the street. (This attitude destroys what should have been one of the funniest moments, a bit in which he lures a clearly unsuspecting Ron Paul to a bedroom in the hopes of making a sex tape in which we wind up rooting for Paul in the end.) Furthermore, while I understand that the character is meant to satirically embody society’s worst fears about gay people--that they are wild-dressing fops who are only interested in sex and fashion--the joke is bumbled so badly that the satire is nowhere to be seen and he just comes across as an ugly caricature from start to finish.

To be fair, there are a few instances in “Bruno” when I did laugh (the best being the aforementioned bit with Harrison Ford and another in which Bruno and Lutz have an especially outré encounter with a group of those jackasses carrying placards reading “GOD HATES FAGS!”) and it is at least a little more creative than the vile likes of such current comedies as “I Love You, Beth Cooper” and “The Hangover.” I will even concede that Sacha Baron Cohen is an inventive comedic mind, though he displays precious little of that here, and that this project is just one of those things that people pull out of a drawer in the wake of a mammoth success in order to strike while the iron is hot. My hope is that now that he has presumably gotten this type of filmmaking out of his system, he will go on to do something as unique and creative as he clearly is. My other hope is that when “Bruno” hits DVD, Cohen and Charles include hidden camera footage of the executives from Universal Pictures watching the film for the first time and seeing exactly where the $41 million they paid to distribute it actually went--I can almost guarantee that those reactions are probably a hell of a lot funnier than anything on display here.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18110&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/10/09 00:10:10
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User Comments

9/13/10 Karamashi Shocking, crude, messy, but hilarious. 4 stars
6/19/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Great movie. Could not stop laughing! 5 stars
6/13/10 mr. mike It has a cuople of big laughs , but the bloom is clearly off the rose, 2 stars
1/10/10 David Not bad, but the shock value wears off on repeat viewings. 3 stars
11/28/09 Luke Ignore the 1-star ratings here - unless you're homophobic 5 stars
8/28/09 Emmy Kay Butanone Elton John must be getting senile, to be willing to appear in this gay-bashing rubbish! 1 stars
8/27/09 Gretchen Seitz A conundrum. Is this gay-bashing or gay-oriented? Go figure. 3 stars
8/26/09 R. G. Ranade Bold and brave, sure, but just not funny enough. 2 stars
8/14/09 damalc offensive for the sake of being offensive, while hoping for a laugh 2 stars
8/06/09 Rachel "How do you protect yourself from a dildo?" Great film. Can't wait for the DVD. 5 stars
7/29/09 Knightfox21 Major letdown...pretty gross. Cohen has done better work. 1 stars
7/28/09 Brew Gross & totally scripted ... Borat was 100 times better 1 stars
7/22/09 The Great Lee Card funny as hell, takes a bit to get into then totally absorbing, almost as good as borat 5 stars
7/18/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Frightened closet homophobes funnier than tossed dwarves! Ron Paul bit unfunny though. 4 stars
7/16/09 Makman Was OK. Lacked the oomph of Borat. Not great, but not a total disaster either. 3 stars
7/13/09 Luisa Fearless and disturbingly funny! 5 stars
7/13/09 Mick "You Know How I Know Gay?" 30% give a negative on RT, thats how. 5 stars
7/13/09 Flounder An oftentimes hilarious film. Not as original or organized as Borat 4 stars
7/12/09 The Game Not as good as Borat. Very overrated. Weak film. 1 stars
7/11/09 The Talking Elbow I'd like to see someone else try to sneak into a terrorist leader's lair to prank them. 5 stars
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  10-Jul-2009 (R)
  DVD: 17-Nov-2009


  DVD: 17-Nov-2009

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