Sasha Baron Cohen, the man who presented a hospitable and amazingly tolerable fine dining group with a bag of his own freshly squeezed excrement in Borat, returns for seconds with another Ali G character retrofitted for the big screen, Bruno. Outwardly gay, overly flamboyant and perpetually offensive, Bruno’s attacks of provocation are designed to bring tears of laughter – and most do almost uncontrollably. Unlike Borat where targeted “victims” were slowly poked and prodded until they snapped by a generally likeable man, Bruno’s impatience and attitude abruptly slams the door on several ingenious setups before they have the opportunity to fully incubate.
Shunning a comparison of Bruno to Borat is impossible to ignore so let’s get that out of the way. The brilliance and charm of Borat came from the character’s naïve understanding of Americans as he traveled across the country to fulfill an outrageous dream. Cohen played up the cultural gap 100-fold to incite reactions from generally ordinary people going about their lives. Apart from tricking a rodeo manager to discuss his personal views on homosexuality, Borat’s dialogue, mannerisms and follies are portrayed as a cultural disconnect and, discounting the brash vulgarity, presented with shades of sincerity.
Like Borat, the cultural divide in Bruno is equivalent to the Grand Canyon in girth when the Austrian lands on American soil. Any similarities between the two characters end there. Bruno is an egomaniac who is driven purely by selfish desires, both sexually and professionally as exhibited in his quest to become an American celebrity. He flushes out fragments of his own disturbing beliefs in people from situations and settings that make those in Borat seem tame in comparison. Borat never pushed the buttons of men with weapons that could turn on him in a heartbeat. Bruno does, unabashedly on multiple occasions as if daring someone to pull the trigger.
Bruno, even more so than Borat, emphasizes the comedic genius and fearlessness Sasha Baron Cohen embodies. No matter what reaction his “victims” return or where one of his stunts heads, Cohen never breaks character and continues the routine to its absolute conclusion. Though the obviously scripted elements buffering Bruno’s stunts drag down the highs from laughs, it is almost unbelievable to accept this man is really putting himself into these surreal situations.
Several setups in Bruno are some of the funniest and most creative situations I can recall appearing in a film/documentary. You expect huge laughs to ensue and cannot help but feel robbed when Bruno’s outlandishness cuts the gag far too short. Borat in these same situations would have brought the house down. Bruno, though he makes you laugh, returns the room to silence not long after a wave of chuckles subside.
Bruno is an immensely funny film that had my audience laughing in bits and pieces throughout. Many around me claimed “it’s no Borat” afterward and I tend to agree; Bruno is actually funnier discarding a slow opening and closing. But it could have been more, and without the charm and likeability of Borat, Bruno is a character I would just assume return to obscurity once his 20 minutes of fame expire.
– Dan Bradley