Bruno: Baron Cohen’s Follow-Up to Borat

Shorter, ruder, uncut, and far more outrageous, but also more calculated, narrowly focused and less politically poignant, “Bruno,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to “Borat” (“Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhsta”) is a wildly uneven text that includes some of the most outré sexual stuff to be ever seen on American screen.

 

Undoubtedly, as the creator, star, writer and producer, Baron Cohen has made the gutsiest, craziest and most dangerous comedy to be released in mainstream theaters.  In “Brüno,” Baron Cohen introduces moviegoers to the next character from his award-winning series, Da Ali G Show, a gay fashionista who is the host of the top-rated late night fashion show (Funkyzeit Mit Brüno) in any German-speaking country, apart from Germany.

 

Brüno’s mission is to become the biggest Austrian celebrity in the world since Hitler, but alongside fame, he wants to find true love.  As a result, he hits the global road, going to Milan, London, Berlin, Paris, Los Angeles, New York City, Alabama, and the Middle East (Israel and Jordan), where he brings together the endless rivals, encouraging them to agree on the importance of Humus, if not Hamas (after all, the two words sound almost the same, right?)

 

The first reel, dominated by anal jokes and acts between Bruno and his Asian boyfriend, a short, slender guy whose physical dimensions are the opposite of Baron Cohen, tall, handsome, well-built, may prove offensive to some viewers (gay and straight).  It’s as if Baron Cohen and his director Larry Charles signal the audience to be ready for a wild adventure with verbal and visual assaults, orchestrated by the most flamboyant comedian working in Hollywood today.


The gross-out elements in the first 10 minutes may delight fans of the early John Waters’ movies, except that, for better or worse, “Bruno” is a much more technically accomplished and smooth production than any of Waters flicks, or “Borat” for that matter.

But how can you not like a gay Austrian fashionista, who decides to reprimand and correct his ways by “going straight” as a result of one “sudden” brilliant realization, that three of our most popular actors, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kevin Spacey, share one basic characteristic in common: They are all straights!  Why can’t Bruno be like them?

 

In 2006, Baron Cohen brought Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev to the big screen in Borat, an original comedy that was largely praised by critics, nominated for a Screenplay Oscar, and a global box-office hit, grossing $260 million (half of which in the U.S. alone). “Bruno” doesn’t feel like a $100 million picture, though rude and crude comedies (“The Hangover”) are doing well these days with the teenage crowd, which dominates the theatrical marketplace.

 

The basic strategy is the same as the one that marked “Borat,” the essence of which is cinema verite-like episodic structure, composed of numerous vignettes, in which Baron Cohen exposes some of the most outrageous and ridiculous prejudices that define American pop culture, particularly as it pertains to gays, through various encounters.  Under these circumstances, it’s no surprising that homophobia is the main target.


It’s hard to tell what proportion of the brief movie (only 82 minutes) is pre-secripted and pre-staged vis-a-vis the more spontaneous and more authentic elements.

What is clear, however, is that having set a new standard of risky provocation, Baron Cohen and his team of writers and producers (Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, and Jeff Schaffer) were under pressure to deliver big and wild, to up the ante.  And so we have verbal jokes and graphic images of anal intercourse, penises of various shapes, sizes and color, some of which roll, swing, penetrate and even talk; house guests like Paula Abdul and LaToya Jackson, who sit of the back of Bruno’s servants while being interviewed; straight orgies in which Baron Cohen stare at the guys’ sexual organs; S& M session, during which he refuses to remove his underwear, which leads to whipping and beating from a tough blonde dominatrix and Bruno escaping through the window.


After a sentimental separation from his Asian lover at the airport, Bruno reluctantly takes Lutz (played by Swedish actor Gustaf Hammarsten, who made a strong impression in Lukas Moodysson’s “Together”), who was his second assistant, as his traveling companion and “partner in crime.”  What begins as a strictly business transaction gradually evolves into a more trusting and loving relationship, albeit one with lots of breakups and public scandals in between.

 

Initially meek, and hopelessly in love with his boss, Lutz assumes a stronger personality as the saga continues, reaching a number of climaxes, including one set in a hotel, in which the duo have to call the entire staff to their room, when they cannot separate from each other after an $&M bondage session in which Bruno penetrates Lutz.

 

As a couple, Lutz is often playing the “straight man” for Brüno, going along with his insane ideas, such as swindling a baby from an African tribe, and later trying to become heterosexual.  The sequences of Bruno and his black baby appearing in a live TV talk show, alluding to the current trend among movie stars (Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and others), are outrageous in every sense of this term.

Like a fashion accessory, Brüno carts his adopted son (played by twin boys) wherever he goes, from casting sessions and impromptu weddings in California to talk shows in Texas.  At the Dallas-Fort Worth international airport, Brüno and his assistant pretend to pick up his newly arrived child from the baggage carousel in a box labeled “Fragile.” 

For me, the film’s scariest sections concern parents of would be child actors, and what they are willing to do to get their children an audition.  Bruno conducts multiple casting sessions with caregivers of “aspiring” child actors in Sherman Oaks, California.  It’s shocking to listen to the bizarre and dangerous lengths to which some parents would go for their children to become a part of the public eye, including severe diets in both directions.

Reportedly, the production had more serious police encounters than in “Borat.”  The crew received calls from the FBI warning of death threats and dodging clenched fists, angry mobs and loaded guns.  Traveling in five vehicles (three vans, one getaway minivan and one RV that doubled as a production room and changing room), the cast and crew made their way across America, Europe and the Middle East, and in the process got both stunning and shocking results that more than justify the movie’s R-rating. 

 

Like any road comedy, the fun in “Bruno” resides in the specific nature of Bruno’s encounters in his globetrotting escapade adventure.  It’s impossible to analyze the movie in detail without revealing the particular identities of his interviewees, thus the below spoiler alert.

 

Spoiler Alert

 

One of the film’s astonishing “experiments” is the use of “Mexican Chair People,” a gag based on Brüno’s realization that he has no furniture upon which to seat his subjects. To that extent, he volunteers his Latino gardeners to function as chairs, not expecting anyone to actually sit upon the men (who are stuntmen and actors).  Surprisingly, it proved to be easy to get compliance from the various celebrities.  American Idol judge Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson’s sister La Toya Jackson are interviewed, while sitting on the backs of the supposedly day laborers. 

 

Shockingly, celebs expected to be more media savvy, such as Abdul, La Toya, Brittny Gastineau and politico Ron Paul, make appearances during which they say and do more on camera than one can imagine.  Now that Michael Jackson is dead, how will Universal handle the scene, in which Bruno asks La Toya to get her brother for an interview, and then grabs her cel to get his phone number?

 

The political sequences: After slyly getting the former Jordanian prime minister to take part in a 90-minute interview at his home, Bruno meets with the country’s royal family to smooth things over.  Engaging members of the Israeli Mossad and other fundamentalist politicians, Brüno heads to an area in the West Bank that’s not under Israeli control.  Surprisingly, the head of the Bethlehem unit of terrorist group al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade meets with him.  The leader of a sect known for suicide bombings sits with Brüno while an aide translates statements that are highly explosive and offensives.  While they speak, they are surrounded by the terrorist’s bodyguards, who grow increasingly agitated by Bruno’s barbs.

 

Credits

 

A Universal release of a Universal Pictures and Media Rights Capital presentation of a Four by Two Films production.

Produced by Sacha Baron Cohen, Jay Roach, Dan Mazer, Monica Levinson.

Executive producer, Anthony Hines.

Co-producers, Jon Poll, Todd Schulman.

Directed by Larry Charles.

Screenplay, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer; story, Cohen, Peter Baynham, Hines, Mazer, based on characters created by Cohen.

Cast

 

Bruno – Sacha Baron Cohen
Lutz – Gustaf Hammarsten