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I went into Bruno knowing that it would not be Borat. I was not aware of how homophobic and aggressively self-infatuated the premise would make the film, however. Firstly the film is about the shallowness and emptiness of seeking fame for fame’s sake. A number of current celebrity pop-topics get addressed (adopting an African child, reality programming as an end goal, fame for simply being famous) but rarely in a meaningful or insightful way. A good comedy is waiting to be made in this subject, possibly even by Cohen. Bruno did not become this film, though. It became Sasha Baron Cohen too absorbed with his own character to work out a way to make said character funny or interesting to watch.

Bruno, the title character, pushes all the obvious stereotypes of gay men well past any bounds for which he aims. The early montage of he and his lover and their sexual activities covered that more than enough, yet he returned to the subject repeatedly and it always goes on too long. More of a funny idea isn’t funnier. And the movie is so blatantly homosexual for shock’s sake alone that I couldn’t help but feel they went full circle as to make it a homophobic experience in itself.

The plot, such as it is, is hardly worth reviewing. It just ties the bits together very loosely. Bruno searches out new ways to regain his fame, which is to say new ways for Cohen to attempt to make people uncomfortable. And he does but rarely in a funny way. For example, he goes to a minister whose mission is to help gay men “recover” from homosexuality. He’s a ripe target who puts himself out there for the skewering. Yet Cohen presses and presses and the man holds up admirably. He never cracks or submits to the anger he must surely have felt. Somehow this minister is not the one who comes off looking absurd. Maybe he should have found a less pleasant target. Bruno camping with some hunters is an even worse example. It seems like he may have been trying to get shot in that bit. And it’s never funny to see him try to get into their tents nude. These guys weren’t even public figures who were asking for it. Where Bruno on the HBO series was brilliant at asking just enough questions to get people to say horrible things obliviously, the film Bruno seems determined to force them out of the subjects by shoving a one-man pride parade in their faces. I was just waiting for it to be over.

I won’t say that I never laughed during this. Several scenes are funny, at least in the beginning of those scenes. The movie tends to ring far more from them than they have to offer. Rarely did a scene finish without my having already lost interest in it, or the joke having grown already tiresome.

The main problem with the film is trying to put an unlikable character (Bruno) into the mold successful for a likeable character (Borat). Where Borat didn’t understand why that what was acceptable in his, yes fictional, realm was out of place in the settings in which he found himself, Bruno does and chooses to openly be an ass. So the comedy of that situation is lost and the main protagonist quickly loses the audience, too. Bruno too closely resembles the character he is intended to mimic, and he never redeems himself. In the movie his shining moment is accepting a normal person who loves him over his attempts at winning back his old life. Conquering one’s own vanity is not quite a heroic triumph. And then it ends on one of the flattest jokes of the movie, a marriage.

Truthfully, I was surprised when I read producer Jay Roach was heavily involved in something as successful as Borat. Bruno is much more the film I expected him to make. Roach, of the Austin Powers movies, is the antithesis of restraint. All he knows is too much, too often. Hopefully Cohen will pare down his next attempt at a character like this and try to explore his subjects more genuinely. 2 stars

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