Bruno Review: Au-gay-cious
Short of locking Ron Jeremy, Margaret Thatcher, a donkey and a bucket of Viagra in a paraplegic midget orphanage for a week, I doubt you could produce a more shocking movie than Bruno.
In the catchphrase-spewing wake of the global (apart from, we assume, Kazakhstan) smash Borat, it’s no surprise that Sacha Baron Cohen has redoubled his efforts towards producing a comedy that succeeds in providing more breathtaking, ‘peeking through your fingers’ moments than even the goriest of horrors.
Following a disastrous entrance to a huge European fashion show, ‘the most famous gay Austrian since Arnold Schwarzenegger’ and self-proclaimed fashion wunderkind finds himself exiled from the industry he’s dedicated his entire life to.
With a career and love-life in tatters, the flamboyant fashionista flies to America to try and make a name for himself by interviewing G-list celebrities, adopting an African baby and, ultimately, attempting to turn straight.
An essential ingredient in nailing the pay-off for the gags in Borat came from using Cohen’s erstwhile, culturally clueless Kazakhstani to orchestrate and steer gullible victims into revealing moments of disarming transparency.
Making a follow-up in the same vein was always going to be a hard sell. Aside from the fact that Bruno’s narcissistic self-importance (with a level of camp wild enough to make Alan Carr look like a right-wing extremist by comparison) instantly threatens to alienate the audience as well as the victims, it’s the unavoidable fact that while you can dress Cohen in crotchless chaps, an 80s emo surfer dude blonde hairdo and arm him with a couple of double ended dildos, it’s likely that people would recognize that face (or at least be oddly reminded by it).
Ingeniously (and rather markedly) Cohen went for the only target vain and self-centered enough to be oblivious to a secret the whole world had already been let in on.
By pastiching, targeting and mocking the shallow and image obsessed world of celebrity and fashion, he’s only serving to reinforce preconceptions further and, as a result, produce moments of underwear-soiling comedy gold.
Watching Paula Abdul extol her human rights work and importance of individual freedom as she sits on a Mexican man, eating sushi off another naked pool worker is brilliant. As is the moment Bruno pulls off (ahem) a spectacular mime act that sees him imaginarily fellate Milli from Vanilli.
But, as with Borat, it’s when he makes his point less blatant that the shock value manages to balance that fine line between something irrelevant you’ll gossip about (the eye-wateringly ludicrous opening salvo that shows the rather intimate moments in his life with his Phillipine pygmy of a boyfriend) and something you’ll actually discuss.
At a photoshoot, an alarming number of parents confidently guarantee their baby would have liposuction if it meant they got the job, while the climatic cage fight ‘gay-off’ is oddly poetic and heart-breaking in equal measures, as Cohen reveals for the world to see the rage-fuelled bigotry lying below the surface of Middle America (and modern society as a whole).
There are quite a few moments where you get the unerring feeling that it was only by the sheer presence of the cameras that prevented Cohen from falling foul to some serious violence.
Ultimately, that’s the rub.
While it may not be as revelatory as Borat or prove as memorable, it’s a different beast. The approach has had to change and for that reason alone there are less catchphrases, less surprises and the occasional set-up falls flat, but the sheer audacious scope and boulder-sized balls Cohen must have had to actually run with some of these ideas cements the shock to laugh ratio, and ensures Bruno as one of the funniest films of the year.