|by Brian Orndorf
It appears the trilogy is now complete. After creating starring vehicles for his characters Ali G (2002’s “Ali G Indahouse”) and Borat Sagdiyev (2006’s smash “Borat”), the time has come for Sacha Baron Cohen to allow Bruno an opportunity to carry his own picture. “Bruno” will likely be welcomed by an adoring audience fully equipped to endure the traditional blast of Cohen-approved smut and merciless social commentary, especially after “Borat” turned his obscure antics into box office gold. However, don’t hold sudden international success against Cohen’s superb modus operandi, who once again tears into a clueless world seeking to mock, celebrate, and disgust anyone who will welcome him.
Watching his success on German television taken away from him, fashion expert Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) is ready to make the leap to America. Traveling to Los Angeles with assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), Bruno hopes to hit it big on network television, only to watch as his special brand of homosexually charged antics fail to impress American test audiences. Dejected, Bruno travels around the globe trying to make himself famous, finding nooks and crannies of culture to test his charms. Armed with his gumption, his adoptive African baby O.J., and his innate sense of cutting-edge style, Bruno finds he must make peace with himself before he can change the world.
With “Bruno,” Sacha Baron Cohen finds his velvet bag of magic tricks nearly empty. With the megaton success of “Borat,” the actor is a now a fixture of the media spotlight, unable to hide behind careful disguises and fool unsuspecting victims. To help control the necessity for surprise, “Bruno” is caught somewhere between the faux-documentary shenanigans of “Borat” and the straight-laced comedic stylistics of “Ali G Indahouse.” It’s a bubbling potion of the staged and the real that supplies a suitable comfort zone for Cohen to manufacture his most outrageous character: a hulking gay fashionista with a tireless libido and a limited appreciation for personal space.
“Bruno” doesn’t feature a rigid structure, but merely provides a faint sense of purpose for our Austrian hero to go out into the world and try to spread his special brand of tight-pantsed cheer through increasingly preposterous situations. If Ali G trafficked in B-boy stupidity and Borat represented extreme foreign cluelessness, Bruno is a big gay menace. Using the character’s homosexuality as the bayonet on the rifle of satire, “Bruno” is more consumed with stirring up homophobic response than trying to stitch together a consistent feature film. “Bruno” eventually sheds all dramatic pretenses to run free in the fields of Cohen’s pervy imagination, sticking the character in impossible situations of conflict to capture the often colorful reactions.
Whether he’s enlisting in boot camp, trying to seduce Ron Paul to help market a sex tape, appearing on a Jerry Springeresque talk show to defend his African baby, meeting with Christian homosexual conversion experts, struggling to interview Paula Abdul while using Mexican day laborers as furniture, looking to broker peace in the Middle East, visiting a swinger’s party, or assuming disguise as “Straight Dave” and staging a UFC event (taking the sport to its natural conclusion), Bruno is craving fame at any cost. Cohen’s enviable energy in the role goes a long way toward smoothing out the rough edges of the filmmaking, working to mold a thin structure of fame-whore ridiculousness to a picture more concerned with gags and punchlines, often accompanied by graphic male nudity. “Bruno” is habitually shocking, especially in the manner it fixates on anal play and the defiant heterosexuality of the marks, but Cohen keeps the horseplay frothy enough to avoid a hate crime mentality.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation keeps in line with the film’s loose documentary intent. Some scenes feel appropriately digital while others enjoy the clarity of film. Overall, the image seems brightened to a certain degree, which dilutes the colors and flattens skintones. Detail is available, but never remarkable, while black levels remain consistently strong, needed to enjoy the film’s nighttime activities. “Bruno” finds a suitable home on DVD, but never a remarkable one.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix delivers big, boomy beats throughout the listening experience, with hard Euro-techno soundtrack selections offering a nice, firm rhythm to the track. The rest of the DVD is mostly regulated to interview segments, where both Bruno and the interviewees are easily understood. It’s a frontal track with limited directionality, but it fits the ambiance of this impulsive motion picture. Subtle, but crisp. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also available, along with an English DVS offering.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
Though not explicitly advertised on the DVD packaging, there’s actually a feature-length audio commentary with star Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles here for sampling. Billed as “enchanced,” the track pauses the footage at the whim of the participants (some picture-in-picture is employed as well), adding roughly 30 minutes to the commentary experience. The conversation is simply amazing, exploring the complicated moviemaking process with extreme clarity, illuminating just what the hell was going on behind the scenes during the insanity of filming. Cohen and Charles unleash a torrent of stories (most detailing near-misses with the police and the constant influx of homophobia from the general public), carefully working through the footage to explore how the film was assembled. It’s a humorous track, but more thrillingly, it paints a specific portrait of accomplishment, making it an essential supplement. If you’ve ever questioned the method behind Cohen’s madness, give this commentary a listen. It’s astonishingly informative.
“Alternate Scenes” (5:40) submit a few additional gag ideas, including the appearance of baseball icon Pete Rose, who clearly doesn’t have the patience to properly deal with Bruno.
“Deleted Scenes” (35:10) offer trimmed jokes, most of inferior quality, following Bruno as he shops for houses in Los Angeles, interviews football players while suffering from post-breakup blues (resulting in tears and renewed sexual interest), attends a gay marriage demonstration, and interviews a white supremacist. Again, not everything clicks comedically, but the extended time with Bruno is welcome. Also included is the famed LaToya Jackson scene, cut out of the film at the very last minute.
“Extended Scenes” (18:43) elongate a few choice moments from the feature, including the kiddie casting call and the swingers party.
“Interview with Lloyd Robinson” (5:32) chats with Bruno’s onscreen agent, who finally understood the extent of the hoax during the theatrical release last summer. A worldly, good-natured fellow, Robinson seems to enjoy the joke, recalling his bizarre interactions with Bruno with a weary smile.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
The picture doesn’t break new ground for Cohen and his marvelous comic impulses, but it gives him room to play, and that’s just as welcome. “Bruno” contains plenty of belly laughs, audible gasps, and provides a sly refresher on obscene civilian prejudice, drilling to the cancerous heart of intolerance one giggle at a time.
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originally posted: 11/07/09 02:56:04