Those familiar with the character Bruno know him as one of a triptych of alter egos on display in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show (alongside Borat and the titular Ali G), a lisping and effeminate Austrian TV host whose apparent ignorance, and superficiality – not to mention his confrontationally flamboyant homosexuality – elicits laughable, often bigoted or contradictory, remarks from his interview subjects.
After the films devoted to Cohen’s other two personalities (Ali G Indahouse and Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) became so popular that Cohen was forced to retire both characters – as it became impossible to catch people unawares – it is hardly a surprise that Cohen/Bruno re-teamed with director Larry Charles (who helmed the Borat movie) for a Bruno feature.
Just as Borat did in the transition from television to silver screen (think back to the rodeo scene where Borat nearly causes a riot at a southern rodeo by serenading the crowd with a fictional Kazakh national anthem sung to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner”), Bruno takes things to a new level.
Directed by Larry Charles
Fired from his job as a television host and thus ending the fashion-world-related jokes which kick off the film (including Bruno’s literal crashing of a Milan fashion show), Bruno heads to America determined to become an A-list celebrity.
In pursuit of this goal, he attempts to sell a pilot of a celebrity interview show, whose only celebrity content is a brief snippet of Harrison Ford telling Bruno in no uncertain terms to make himself scarce (the rest consisting of Bruno dancing in a thong). He endeavours to bring peace to the Middle East by meeting with figures from both sides of the conflict and interviewing a leader of a terrorist organization, insulting or offending all concerned in the process.
He even attempts an interview-cum-seduction of presidential candidate Ron Paul – conflating him with prolific drag queen RuPaul.
When all this fails to secure him the massive fame he desires, Bruno adopts an African baby (after all, “Madonna has one, Brangelina has one”), giving him the “traditional” name of O.J. and dressing him in a tiny belly-shirt emblazoned with the word “Gayby,” to the consternation and outrage of a mostly-black talk show audience.
Ultimately, Bruno decides he has to become straight in order to achieve true celebrity status, laughably citing John Travolta and Tom Cruise among the catalysts for his realization.
This leads to what is potentially the most shocking scene in the film, in which a crowd of redneck ultimate fighting fans in Arkansas find themselves treated to a different sort of man-on-man action than they are used to, courtesy of Bruno’s stage persona, the inaptly named “Straight Dave.”
And herein lies the rub. Borat was a glorious exercise in teasing out middle America’s xenophobia, the charmingly backwards Borat acting as an anti-Semitism barometer, bringing people’s guard down enough for southern bar patrons to happily sing along to “Throw the Jew Down the Well,” for example.
And while Bruno certainly showcases its fair share of homophobes in a parallel manner, there is a question of entrapment and aggravation. To his discredit, Ron Paul does eventually use the word “queer,” twice, in a directly derogatory fashion, but only after Bruno makes unwanted advances and strips.
The fight audience in Arkansas hurls all manner of slurs – along with beer cups and even folding chairs – into the ring at the two intertwined “combatants”; but first they were lured to the arena with the promise of “hot girls” and one-dollar beers during a genuine cage match.
That aside, there are examples of such insanity that it is difficult to believe they were not scripted, to wit, a mother of an infant model suggesting that her baby can slim down by 10 pounds (one third its weight) in a week to satisfy Bruno, with liposuction as an acceptable fall-back should other means (their nature never articulated) fail.
And if any of these people are less than genuine, then what is the point of having people merely re-enact prejudice the filmmakers are purporting to capture unfiltered?
As entertainment, Bruno is a laugh (and a wince) a minute. As social commentary, it is rather problematic. And while homosexuality is not nearly so touchy an issue in Canada, some may find Bruno hard to stomach between the substantial amounts of nudity (mostly male) and the incredibly awkward moments; but for those who can, it’s a riot – almost literally.