Brüno (Larry Charles, 2009)

12Dec11

Sacha Baron Cohen (Brüno), Ron Paul, Paula Abdul, Harrison Ford, Bono, Elton John, Sting, Snoop Dogg. Rating: 18. Running time: 81 minutes.

Brüno is not Baron Cohen at his funniest. That honor goes to Borat. It is, however, undoubtedly him at his ballsiest. Ali G’s most daring moment was merely asking David Beckham live on national TV if he ever knocked one out thinking of Posh before he met her; Borat’s only really jaw-dropping sequence was the naked run through the hotel conference room. Take that one scene from Borat and imagine a whole film of such shock-horrors – you’ve got Brüno: an outrageous 80 minutes of offense, guaranteed to piss off every non-liberal under the sun.

It’s easy to try to avoid the awkward laughs Brüno begs us to let out by smearing it all as deceptive and staged. Remember, though, that this is the man that when dressed as a white gangster-rapper from Staines managed to pitch an idea for an ice-cream glove to Donald Trump and propose a new language to Noam Chomsky, and that was back in the mini-budget days of late-night Channel 4. So besides the fact that Ron Paul would never consent to a cameo in a gay quasi-porn film anyway, why doubt the bedroom scene – in which Cohen asks the 74 year old Congressional veteran if anyone has ever told him he looks like Enrique Iglesias – is anything but real?

That alone should be sufficient to smash all skepticism. After that, why doubt a moment of this mad exposure of just how much people will put up with, from parents auditioning babies for Jew-killing photo-shoots and claiming they’ll be fine to lose weight via liposuction if need be, to a Southern martial arts teacher warning Brüno that homosexuals are likely to be anyone being overly nice to you, secretly preparing to attack from behind.

That’s just a handful of moments from an array of scenarios Cohen sets up, and barely any fail to build upon the craziness of what comes before them. I had forgotten just how many great scenes are packed into this wild mockumentary. 80 minutes is a perfect length to ensure it barely drags. To list the most shocking but hilarious bits would be to list the vast majority of the film.

The other fifth is tedious only because, as a film rather than a series of unconnected episodes, a half-hearted attempt is made to weave a narrative together along the lines of ‘Bruno trying to become a celebrity’, moving from plan A to B to C ad infinitum. And the linking scenes here with real acting and scripted dialogue and no innocent objects of jokes are poor. Simple as. Yet fortunately they are just that – connectors – and it’s never too long until we’re back to, say, I don’t know, seeing a Christian Pastor recommending refraining from playing the clarinet as part of gay-conversion therapy.

That the US remains largely so homophobic is only part of the joke, the faux worlds of fame and fashion also playing significantly sized parts. Often the laugh is merely that certain people exist, and the humour is wrapped up already in the job title of ‘Charity PR consultant’. Cohen can just sit there and let us laugh at who they are.

Yet then there are also the times when he gets genuine former Israeli and Palestinian politicians to sit explaining to him that Hamas is their subject of dispute, not hummus; and there’s the Richard Bey (read: Jeremy Kyle) show performance, where he tells an African American audience that the black baby he’s nursing in his arms is a real ‘dick magnet’ that he swapped for an iPod. Come on, admit it. In a world where so little is left that still has the power to shock, Brüno makes you simultaneously howl and feel stunned that there are still boundaries available to be pushed, which the film then proceeds to effortlessly bulldoze down. What a shame that this type of film from Baron Cohen is over – his personas are so famous that the tricks could never be pulled off again.

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