In 2006 Sacha Baron Cohen burst into the public domain with his character and movie Borat. The strangely likable Kazakhstan news reporter had audiences howling (myself included, at least upon first viewing) in the aisles of movie theatres across the world. But as Cohen's new shock-fest comedy states in its tagline – "Borat was so 2006." So is Brüno funnier and more shocking than Borat? More shocking? Absolutely. Funnier? Absolutely not.
The films follows the titular Brüno, a gay and very flamboyant Austrian fashionista who takes a trip to the US in an attempt to become famous. In much the same style as Borat, Brüno sees its main character (amongst other things) interviewing and confronting various different people including political leaders, anti-gay protesters and movie agents, often with shocking results.
The key to Cohen's character of Borat was that he was believable as a genuine fish out of water, coming from his known Kazakhstan home town to the United States. He was also weirdly likeable despite some of his words and actions. But the problem with the character of Brüno is he's not believable as a real person, and only serves as a tool to construct these awkward and often shocking situations. He's also a bit of an a-hole, and therefore it's hard to root for him in his journey to become famous.
Borat also felt like a real and true movie, with a story that you could follow and a main character you could root for. But with Brüno the story is half-baked and tacked on, and only there to serve as a semi-structured container for the shocking content Cohen presents us with here. And there is so much of that, almost to the point of overkill. The whole movie feels set-up, even getting to the point where it's questionable whether or not all of the scenes were really genuine, and not, in part, manufactured for effect. Whether or not that's true I don't know if we'll ever know, but it certainly takes away from the effect of the supposedly true reactions of the people Brüno is in the scene with.
One thing that can be said with no reservation about Cohen is he knows how to push people's buttons. The level of that seen within Borat was high enough already, but with Brüno that level has been raised exponentially. As I said, the movie feels entirely set-up to shock the viewer, and that's where pretty much all the laughs can be found. But the problem is with the exception of a few scenes (one in particular in the first ten minutes will serve as a tolerance test for the audience – basically if you can sit through that scene, you'll get through the rest of the movie), these relentless attempts at shocking the audience wears thin by about half way through. I'm not going to go as far as to say it's desensitizing (because once you've gotten over one shocking occurrence, another one crops up to drop your jaw to the floor again), but it just gets boring once the formula has been revealed and you realize there's nothing else to it.
Even in Brüno "safer" moments that are suited for general audience to witness in a trailer, Brüno doesn't work. And the reason for that, as is the case with so many comedies, is all of those parts are given away within the trailer. Not only does that make them stand out like a sore thumb when you see them in context, but it also takes away from the laughs. A big reason why the film is able to surprise you is because most of the stuff is too outrageous and adult orientated to be suitable for general public viewing.
There's a very clear duo of targets Cohen is targeting with his latest motion picture – homophobia (and people's general perception of homosexuality) and the celebrity culture. The latter is the vein that runs through the movie as far as plot goes (if the wafer thin thing we get presented with could be described as a plot), and plenty of jabs are taken at that sort of culture we've just come to expect and accept nowadays (name checks and celebrity reputation insults are always on Brüno's tongue). In dealing with homosexuality, it's really quite irritating. There was a great opportunity for Cohen to go down different routes and confront different relation issues, making it intelligent as Borat was in many ways. But just when the idea is brought up and you think it's going take things in an interesting direction, the movie just falls back on it's extended gay joke of, "look at the foreign guy with tight pants and his genitalia hanging out." This just proves that the movie is more about being in-your-face and shocking than being inventive and intelligent.
If any audience members out there have a problem with Brüno it will most likely be because of how offensive it so very often tries to be. I'm not taking away from just how shocking this film is at times, with ( I imagine) only a few black squares blocking certain visuals allowing it to be shown in most cinemas. I lost count of the amount of times I thought to myself, "How in the world did Cohen even get away with this stuff?" So if shock-comedy is you're thing, Brüno will be absolute comedy heaven for you. But the problem I had with it is I just didn't find it very funny, with only a few of the most shocking scenes making me laugh.
What I want to know is what happened, Mr. Cohen? Why the need to shock and provide nothing else? Why so lazy? Borat was a great character, and a hilarious film, but Brüno is a major step down in every way except for the shock factor. That kind of thing is fine to a point, but when that's all you've got, it gets tiresome. It appears that success of Borat has went to Cohen's head, and all he cares about is getting jaw's to drop to the floor… by any means necessary.
What a disappointment.