No surprise that Sacha Baron Cohen goes too far with his latest put-on, Bruno. The shocker is that in going too far the movie goes nowhere.
Cohen is that party guest so eager for laughs that he'll wear a lamp shade and not much else. That was fine in Borat, which had the decency among its many indecencies to satirize hypocrisy, making dirty jokes mean something beyond shock.
Borat offered a snapshot of moral America, taken by a faux yet convincingly curious foreigner and smeared with Cohen's raunchy doodling. Part of the fun was wondering how the comedian escaped with his life. Cohen doesn't seem as brave in Bruno since nearly every confrontation smacks of rehearsal.
If Cohen is now too famous to fool people, he should find another shtick.
Bruno's character is a major problem because of his motivation propelling the movie: People will do anything to be celebrities. Thanks for the news flash. Bruno once had minor fame, hosting the German talk show, FunkyZeit mit Bruno, but was "schwartz-listed" after disrupting a Milan fashion show. He migrates to the U.S. to become "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler," with an assistant (Gustaf Hammarsten) harboring a crush on the flamboyantly gay fashionista.
Bruno tries everything that works for others seeking TV celebrity: hiring an agent, getting an acting gig as an extra and creating an obscene, homoerotic pilot shown to a focus group. Their outrage at seeing Bruno's genitalia (and hearing it speak) provides one of the movie's few instances of genuine punking.
When that fails, Bruno thinks globally, believing he can become famous for bringing peace to the Middle East. Mediating talks with Palestinian and Jewish mouthpieces erodes into confusion between "Hamas" and "hummus." Hiring an allegedly real terrorist to kidnap himself steers into Osama bin Laden insults that an authentic terrorist would behead Bruno for making.
Unable to find fame or a constant laugh thread overseas, Bruno returns to the U.S. with an "adopted" African baby. An appearance on Richard Bey's talk show — Jerry Springer with less talent — can be measured for its retakes by the baby falling asleep in Bruno's arms. The mostly African-American audience is so incensed that only a director's orders to lay off could stop them.
Eventually Bruno wanders into Borat territory, the Deep South where men who don't act the stereotype are primed for pummeling. A hunting trip with three good ol' boys uncomfortable with their effeminate guest feels genuine, with a prolonged silence that's the funniest thing in the movie. On the other hand, a stint in military boot camp and a visit to a swingers party are too faked for anything except head shakes.
Bruno is a movie characterized by Cohen's cheeks-to-cheeks publicity stunt with Eminem at the MTV Movie Awards; an OMG moment that only the terminally clueless couldn't smell as a staged event. Some fans may still believe it was real. Those are the ones who'll still consider Cohen a genius after this.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.