Truth be told, Bruno was always the least funniest of Sacha Baron Cohen’s creations from Da Ali G Show, if only because he was smug and self-aware in comparison to his partners in crime: Ali G was dumb and ignorant. Borat was a fish out of water. But Bruno played his ambushes with a smirk, immediately rendering the gags less innocent, and despite what you may believe, the naivete factor is a big one in the success of a comedy like this.
Bruno‘s feature film is more or less equal to Borat, though I was one of seemingly few who didn’t adore the latter. I thought it was a very funny comedy that got sidetracked with an unfortunate storyline in its second half; in attempting to give Borat a drive and purpose (and love interest), many of the film’s later scenes were quite obviously scripted. The pace grinded to somewhat of a halt, and the whole Pam Anderson fixation wore out its welcome rather quickly.
Bruno falls victim to the same faults of indecisiveness, though its scripted moments are present from the very start, resulting in a less notable decline. The real confrontations and celebrity ambushes are easy to spot — but equally apparent are the scenes where Bruno (Cohen) is interacting with actors, or engaging in behaviour that has at least been somewhat staged. You have to ask yourself, for example, if the woman who practically attempts to rape him at a swingers’ party is a genuine dominatrix, or if she’s just an actress, and if the bedroom they’re in is just a film set, based on the fact that Bruno smashes himself through one of its windows (with the camera following closely behind him) and runs off into the night. Would a film crew let an actor damage an unknowing victim’s property? Doubt it. Equally questionable are the interviews themselves — it’s obvious that clever editing and out-of-context responses have greatly exaggerated the truth. When Bruno flatters a Christian counselor’s lips and tells him what they’d be good for, and the counselor pauses for a moment with little to no reaction, you have to wonder if that exact shot wasn’t just spliced in from another remark.
Technical details aside, another huge problem with Bruno is the fact that it falls victim to its own satire. It wants to wag a disapproving finger at America’s homophobia by exploiting our silly fears, but winds up merely exploiting gay stereotypes — dildos and gerbils abound, as does the unfortunate concept of homosexuals having corrupted moral standards (if I met Bruno, I’d dislike him, too. Not because he’s gay — because he’s creepy and demented.). Ultimately you’re left with the impression that Cohen’s trying to have it both ways — he wants to mock us while resorting to base juvenile gags — which results in a considerably unappealing sense of self-superiority.
If you are willing to put some of these issues aside, the movie has quite a few funny scenes. The baby auditions are Cohen at his finest, while I particularly enjoyed his interview with presidential nominee Ron Paul. This segment has drawn more criticism than anything else in the film (surprisingly, given the movie’s otherwise explicit content), but I must admit to experiencing a guilty pleasure in watching the horror unfold.
The film was directed by Larry Charles, who was also responsible for Borat. As far as manipulated, snobby documentaries are concerned, Charles’ work with Bill Maher on last year’s Religulous was better than Bruno — it mocked its participants without resorting to anal bleaching gags every five minutes. Bruno is by no means a dull film (clocking in at 80 minutes if you don’t count the credits), but it’s not going to win people over with the same charm as Borat, and is likely to be regarded as something of a failure for most viewers. As Bono, Elton John and Slash pay tribute to Bruno during the end credits, you’ll leave with the impression that fame has undermined some of Cohen’s earlier appeal.