Bruno – Movie Review
The meteoric rise of Sasha Baron Cohen has been one of the more peculiar success stories of the past decade. From his breakthrough television series “Da Ali G Show” to appearances alongside Will Ferrell in 2006’s Talladega Nights: the Legend of Ricky Bobby, Cohen has made some powerful friends in the industry expanding his cult audience into a nation waiting for whatever he was going to do next. Cohen’s career has also enjoyed the rare luxury of being both a tremendous critical and commercial success. With his 2006 masterpiece Borat becoming one of the biggest surprise hits of the decade, all eyes were on him for his follow-up Bruno. What resulted was one of the more baffling reactions in recent memory.
Largely meeting with a lukewarm critical reception and bad word of mouth, Bruno may be the most joyfully referenced disappointment in recent memory. With over a year of a rabid fanbase trying to figure out which reported Bruno sightings were stunts planned for the film, many felt it lacked certain element that made Borat such an enjoyable movie. But what went wrong? You had Cohen portraying another one of his beloved characters spawned from the same show that gave us Borat. You had returning Borat director Larry Charles, a tremendous talent who also recently transformed two hours of Bill Maher’s atheistic ranting into a fun-for-all-faiths great film in Religilous. You also had a budget and a studio willing to do anything to ensure the film’s success. So why isn’t Bruno “very nice?”
The main difference between this and his previous film is that the Borat character is given a full back-story and while he says, does and believes things that are completely abhorrible, you forgive him and wind up rooting for him because his heart is in the right place. As a result, you had an endearing catalyst you forgive like a puppy. A happy-go-lucky grown man who looked at our familiar country with a childlike wonder we’ve long since forgotten. When it came to the stunts, resulting the “got’cha” exposure of the populations on the coasts and middle America were mostly out-in-the-open reactions to a friendly outsider trying his best to fit in.
Bruno, on the other hand, is dropped on screen as a vapid talking-head fashionista. While the argument could be made that that’s exactly the type of shallow figure Cohen was looking for, it really hinders the potential the film has to connect with the viewer like its predecessor. Whereas Borat was a protagonist, Bruno screams of an antagonist who deliberately goes out of his way to get his reactions. He doesn’t have a story to tell, he has other people’s stories to interrupt. This disconnect from the viewer really hurts the pacing of the film and replaces what exists of the plot with just some silly stunts on screen.
That being said, those silly stunts are largely incredible. Outside the running gag of “Bruno is clumsy” which is sub-Jackass material, just about everything hits as the ante gets progressively up’ed. From the attempted seduction of Ron Paul to the bewildered test audiences seeing Bruno’s television pilot, there are plenty of scenes that would not have been possible to stage in the first film. What’s also notable is Cohen and Charles applying what they’ve learned from the first film in regard to building to a climax. Without revealing too much, the crescendo in Bruno is a large scale production that seems very, very dangerous. It’s ambitious, unsettling and infinitely more satisfying than Borat’s attempted abduction of Pamela Anderson.
After getting past the initial shock and the disappointment of it not being Borat, it’s hard to deny that Bruno, the film, is very, very funny. Yet the character himself (while I appreciate Cohen’s bold choice to not give him a series of catchphrases for a trend-obsessed overzealous fanbase to repeat ad nauseum) isn’t as developed on screen as Borat and I think the replay value will suffer greatly for it. Borat was a character in play, Bruno is just a vessel for gags. While it’s not the classic its predecessor was, it delivers enough solid laugh and unforgettable images to warrant a recommendation.
We give Bruno a Four Out of Five.
Until next time, Let’s Agree to Agree!