MovieMantz Review: ‘Bruno’

"Dressed for Excess"

"Bruno"
Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten
Directed by Larry Charles

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There's no question that "Borat" was a tough act to follow, but despite its best efforts, "Bruno" proves that lightning doesn't strike twice. It has its moments – funny, outrageous, offensive, cringe inducing (sometimes all at once) – but on the whole, it pales in comparison to its fresh and far superior predecessor.

Sacha Baron Cohen's controversial sensation from 2006, which grossed more than $260 million worldwide (and earned Baron Cohen an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay), was beyond hilarious. But it also had something to say, since it held up a mirror to various forms of racial bigotry and cultural hypocrisy that still run rampant in America.

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Now Baron Cohen unleashes Bruno – the gay fashionista who, like Borat, also originated from his award-winning cable series "Da Ali G Show." But if Borat was on a quest to discover the "real" America, Brϋno has something even more ambitious in mind: to become the biggest Austrian celebrity since Adolph Hitler. And if it means exposing worldwide homophobia in the process, so be it.

Not only are the similarities between "Borat" and "Bruno" hard to ignore, but they also invite unfavorable comparisons to the latter film. In both cases, the main characters use guerrilla-style filmmaking to ambush their subjects, and they do so with the help of dim-witted companions (Bruno's assistant Lutz, played by Gustaf Hammarsten, takes the place of Borat's obese manager).

But Borat was naïve and innocent, which made him easy to like – even when he was being just as racist as one of his subjects. Not so with Brϋno, who tries so hard to get a reaction that he ends up being mean-spirited and obnoxious. He also goes after easy targets – rednecks, swingers, gay converters, the military – so their horrified reactions to his over-the-top antics are hardly surprising.

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Then again, "Bruno" didn't exactly have the pick of the litter. After "Borat" made Baron Cohen easy to recognize, the cat was out of the bag, and it was harder for him to replicate the formula. The best he could come up with here are the likes of Republican Congressman Ron Paul and "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul. (A scene with La Toya Jackson, in which Brϋno pesters her to call her brother Michael, was deleted just hours after the King of Pop's untimely death).

As for whether or not "Bruno" is indeed controversial, it's hard to see how anyone could take such an over-the-top film so seriously. If anything, it's all about shock value, but at the same time, it's safe to say that it won't do the gay community any favors. At its best, it's good for a few laughs, but here's hoping that Sacha Baron Cohen doesn't take that third trip to the well anytime soon.

Verdict: SEE IT!

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