Bruno is a difficult film to review. On the one hand, it is extremely funny. This is the hardest I've laughed at a film all year long. If anything else, Bruno at least has that going for it. But on the other hand, the novelty of Sacha Baron Cohen's shtick has clearly worn off. Gone is the charming aloofness of Borat, a character who simply didn't know better, and in its place is a character whose shocking abrasiveness exists out of some bizarre desire to become famous at all costs.
The film opens with Austrian fashion reporter Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) committing career suicide by appearing at an Italian fashion show wearing a velcro suit. Following the incident, he decides that the only course of action is to go to Hollywood and "become famous". The bulk of the film is little more than a series of ridiculous sketches wherein Bruno tries out various methods of achieving fame. Starring in a TV pilot, organizing a charity, attempting to end the conflict between Jews and Muslims, etc.
Sure, there's a loose framework of a story what with Bruno narrating the transitions between segments, but look past that and you'll see the film for what it really is: an 82 minute exercise in baiting homophobes, idiots, and assholes. And yeah, that can be funny (and often is), but there's nothing to it. There's no reason for Bruno's flamboyant rampage across the country.
I think part of the problem is that, after Borat, we're all looking for the gimmick, the shtick, the gag. Borat worked because most people had never heard of the character or the comedian underneath. Now, Cohen's got to go pretty far out of his way to get a rise out of his audience. It's still pretty easy to prank on unsuspecting people, but it feels like Cohen's trying too hard to entertain or shock his audience. Here, the line is thankfully drawn at gay sex onscreen, but I have a feeling Cohen would go there if he thought it would get a reaction.
I guess my complaint boils down to the fact that Bruno is largely without subtext. The movie is hilarious, and parts are certainly eye-opening (the finale, with Bruno playing the role of Straight Dave at a UFC event), but it all means nothing. Borat worked because there was at least a through-line to the character's roadtrip across the US. Bruno's quest to become famous simply reveals the film to be nothing more than the PR stunt that it wants us to think it's mocking.
If this kind of comedy is your thing, if you enjoyed Borat at all, you'll probably find Bruno pretty hilarious. I definitely did. Just don't try to read too much into it, because you almost certainly will find it lacking.
3 stars ( ) out of five