Can We Please Stop Acting Like Brüno Works As Satire?

by |
07/08/2009 4:00 AM |

Directed by Larry Charles

Brüno, the ripely fruity Euro fashion “reporter,” was always the thinnest of Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters. The justification behind Borat’s choke-back-a-laugh prejudice was that it drew out others’; Brüno draws out homophobia by acting the fag — squint or you’ll miss the difference between satire and minstrelsy. Exacerbating things is that, indecently exposed by a decade of publicity, Baron Cohen-as-Brüno has to travel to some way-back backwaters to hunt his sitting ducks, and kill time in between potshots with more sketches than ever before. (Though his bankrollers at Universal sneak him onto the set of corporate partner NBC’s Medium, after an establishing shot lingers on a promo billboard.)

Brüno’s attempt to crash a pro-Prop 8 rally was nixed when reporters recognized Baron Cohen, so instead he comes on to Ron Paul until the wingnut Texan storms off. In the Bible Belt, good ole boys are mulletted and uncomfortable, but not bashers, unless you count the U-turning bloodlust of a redneck Mixed Martial Arts audience baited-and-switched into watching a gay makeout session. (Calling the fights a “Man Slammin’ Max Out” is nice, though even movies as bleary-eyed as Pineapple Express are now hip to the latent homoeroticism of male bonding.) Even the God Hates Fags protesters Brüno joins (in bondage gear) don’t do anything to warrant a close-up.

In addition to learning that the Deep South is homophobic, we learn that the entertainment industry is vapid. Models and publicists titter; stage mothers will do anything for their fifteen minutes. Jokes about closeted A-listers do strike a note of equal-opportunity outrage at the softer bigotry of so-called progressives; but it’s hardly picking on someone your own size when multimillionaire musicians prove they’re in on the joke by singing the end-credits number. (And for Baron Cohen updating Borat’s Pamela Anderson-napping with a similarly complicit Eminem at May’s MTV Music Awards.) A scene of interviewee Latoya Jackson giggling as she uses a migrant worker for a chair, and cutting the segment off when Brüno tries to steal brother Michael’s number off her Blackberry, was cut prior to release out of respect for the recently deceased and his family — lest a film in which the Austrian Brüno wrings laughs with Hitler namechecks be called out as crass.

Because Baron Cohen’s few remaining saps are buried so deep in “the Real America,” though, Brüno’s road trip makes far more scripted pit-stops than Borat’s did. So: gay jokes. Brüno and his pygmy lover fuck with a champagne bottle; thongs and lederhosen ride up Brüno’s ass. Gerbils? Gerbils. More than oh-no-he-didn’t gross-out, though, it’s condescension: Brüno is an actively harmful narcissist, limp-wristedly dismissing his besotted “assistant’s assistant” (Gustaf Hammarsten) and accessorizing with an African baby.

So, are audiences laughing at this vain cum-slurper, or, more charitably, along with his creator, at everyone they already knew they disliked? I’m not sure I like the implications of either answer enough to care which it is. I am sure, though, that I counted perhaps a dozen genuinely reprehensible people comprising almost all the facetime of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Funniest Home Videos, far fewer than lined up, in the rain on a weekday afternoon, to cackle at the same homo — or airheads and hicks — they remembered from the preview. This seems a rather more damning indictment of America than anything Baron Cohen puts on screen.

Opens July 10