Monday, July 13, 2009

Brüno: he'll turn you on, then turn you off.

Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the greatest living actors. That may sound over the top, but I firmly believe it. He may be cited as being primarily a comedian, but there is more to him than just being a funny man. I've always likened him to a persona like Groucho Marx, and a chameleon like Peter Sellers. But even in that case, Baron Cohen is something completely original and on his own. Even with his own characters, he has an uncanny ability to turn any role he is given into his own alter-ego.

Baron Cohen's chameleonic talents are presented again in another feature length film. Brüno, like Borat (2006), is based on an alter-ego of Baron Cohen's, that of Brüno (no last name given), a flamboyant, gay Austrian fashion reporter and interviewer. And especially like Borat and Ali G, the comedy of Brüno not only comes from the title character's persona, but from Baron Cohen's flawless ability to interview and then humiliate unsuspecting citizens and officials (most of which are unaware of the charade). It is a dangerous and painful comedic exercise.

Unfortunately, Brüno doesn't totally live up to expectations. The movie is painfully entertaining, but suffers from a weak plot. It is technically similar to Borat, but seems to focus more on the extremities of the character. One of the weakest parts of the story is Brüno himself, whose short-comings don't seem plausible enough. The character of Borat was given plausibility in that he was from a country with cultures alternative to the United States. Brüno, however, is just a mass of idiocy, blind egotism, and spoiled judgment. Most of the humor is extreme homophobia, enough to confirm one's own sexual orientation.

In the film, Brüno loses his job as a fashion reporter in Austria after he is blacklisted for disrupting a fashion show (due to him trying to wear a disastrous suit made of velcro). With his desired fame stalling in Austria, he decides to head to Los Angeles with his assistant (who harbors a secret crush, much like Smithers on The Simpsons). Everything that follows is based on his desire to be world famous, no matter what the reason is. Through it all, he fails at: interviewing celebrities; attempting to make a sex tape with Ron Paul; trying to solve political imbalance in Israel; adopting an African baby; and attempting to go straight.

Some of the deception used in the film is a testament to Baron Cohen's abilities. But it doesn't get the same reaction from everyone. After Borat, it seems like a lot of people are more interested in which parts of the movie are staged, and which parts are the real deal. It has already been confirmed that the Ron Paul sex-tape attempt is real (and just as painful for the audience to watch). Others are easy to figure out, such as when Brüno is in Israel, and he is chased by the locals for his offensive outfit (the timing suggests that it is real, and not refined).

On a technical level, there is not much else outside of Baron Cohen's credits. Director Larry Charles (who also directed Borat), manages to make some stylistic changes in adapting to a more flamboyant subject matter. Still, that shouldn't short change Mr. Charles, whose directing and writing credits are rather impressive. But as mentioned before, a lot of the humor comes from the shock value and (harmless) attacks on the unsuspecting public. So really, this movie has a life beyond most of the people involved.

What was unnecessary? The gay sex, although meant to humorous, could have been shortened in length (for those who have seen the movie, no pun intended).

Does he succeed at anything? Yes. He manages to exploit parents who are so desperate for fame they will exploit their infant children through overly religious and politically incorrect photographs. He fills up time in his failed TV pilot with some impressive penis acrobatics (really, they are quite impressive). And he manages to give Mel Gibson a new name: "Der Führer."

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