After becoming a household name in the United States thanks to his 2006 feature Borat, British prankster Sacha Baron Cohen revives the third of his staple characters from his old Da Ali G Show – a flamingly gay idiot from Austria named Brüno – and sets him loose across the American landscape. The results are similar to Borat (Larry Charles directed both films), but not as successful.
I think the main difference is that Borat unearthed some dark truths about America's racism, sexism, and misguided values because the film's unwitting marks weren't immediately turned off by the goofy Kazakhstan journalist who cornered them. As a result, they let down their barriers, and said things that they might not have otherwise wanted other people to hear. But when confronted by a preening gay boy in patent leather short-shorts, those barriers go up instantly. Also, unsurprisingly, the majority of conservative Americans – especially in the South, where much of Brüno is shot – are uncomfortable with the idea of man-on-man love, so many of these people don't have a problem admitting their homophobia.
I get the feeling that in the middle of filming, Baron Cohen kind of realized that he wasn't going to reveal much about America that we don't already know. So what we're left with is ninety minutes of the comedian making people feel awkward, to no apparent end.
There are certainly a few laughs to be had in Brüno, and a couple of worthy digs at the culture of fame, but I wish Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles had sharpened their satire a bit– perhaps by digging into the hypocrisies within the gay community itself. Otherwise, it only takes nerve, not talent, to kiss another man in front of a bunch of right-wingers. Even so, apparently the production was fraught with threats (as much when shooting in the Mideast as in Arkansas and Alabama), so perhaps cast and crew were impressed with their footage because of the frightening circumstances under which it was shot. But as audiences only get a glimpse of the context, we can only react to what's on screen. And what's on screen isn't very challenging.