Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beware Of Cracks When Riding Bruno

New films by Werner Herzog, The Coen Brothers, Pedro Almodòvar, Michael Moore and Todd Solondz added to the TIFF. lineup (Press Release)


Back in 2006, I was lucky enough to see Sacha Baron Cohen do his Borat routine live prior to a screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan at The Toronto International Film Festival (aka TIFF.) . Before that night I really did not know much about Sacha Baron Cohen. I had heard of Da Ali G Show but had never watched it. Yet I was instantly captivated as Cohen proceed to stay in character the whole night. Even when the projector broke down, Cohen/Borat hoped up on stage and had the crowd rolling with laughter with his adlibs. When the film finally resume in its entirety, it became clear that Cohen was truly a gifted comic. Coming off of the success of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen unleashes yet another Ali G alum, Bruno, onto the big screen.

After a wardrobe malfunction during Milan’s fashion week, Austrian fashion guru Bruno (Cohen) is fired from his television show. Bruno’s downward spiral continues as he his blacklisted all over Europe. Determined to turn his fortunes around, Bruno decides to head to America in search of fame and fortune. Yet Bruno quickly realizes that becoming famous is much harder than it looks.

One of the things that made Borat work so well was that, for all its outlandishness, it still maintained a fairly coherent plot. The problem with Bruno is that the movie cannot decide if it wants to be a comedy about celebrity culture; or a scathing look at homophobia in the states. Focusing more on the latter would have been the wiser choice. While the talk show scenes involving the black baby were amusing, most of the celebrity jokes fall a little flat. Partly because celebrities are now mocked on a daily basis on television shows like TMZ, Chelsea Lately, The Daily Show, etc. So pointing out star’s obsession with such things as overseas adoption, random social causes, etc. has become rather standard nowadays. Also, some of the people Bruno interviews, such as the PR twins, in the celebrity segments are not the brightest bulbs to beginning with; which makes some of the jokes far too easy.

Another element that hinders the film a bit is the fact that the “staged” comedy dominates the movie this time around. Frankly, the staged stuff is just not as funny. Sacha Baron Cohen is at his best when he is skillfully manipulating people that actually pose a bit of a mental and/or verbal challenge. Many of the big laugh out loud moments in the film come via Bruno’s interactions with ordinary people. Several of the staged gags serve no other purpose then to push the boundaries of the viewers shock tolerance. This would be fine if the movie did not follow Borat's template so closely. Yes the wrestling scene was funny in Borat, but there was no need to try and replicate it with the lame bondage scene in this film. Especially when the side kick, Lutz (Gustaf Hammerarsten, is a far less inspired character than Borat’s Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian.

To be fair, I understand that it is hard to make this type of film with all of the Ali G characters being household names now. Yet, judging by the parts that worked, they had the pieces required to pull it off once again. There are several great comedic moments in the film. The only thing Bruno really needed was more focused plot. By choosing the shock value over plot, Bruno ultimately plays like a fragmented sketch comedy show. Sure you laugh out loud in parts, but ultimately it is not strong enough to be truly memorable.

(warning red band trailer contains strong language)

For more Big Thoughts From A Small Mind's 2009 Reviews

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