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Movie Review: Bruno (R)

Editor’s note: The following review contains relatively explicit descriptions of sexual activity. We do not intend to offend anyone, but the point of doing these reviews is so parents know exactly what is in the films their kids want to see. And, frankly, there was no good way to write indirectly about some of the content in Bruno.


Coarse Jester
The man behind Borat is back to carpet-bomb your comfort zone.
By Jared Peterson

In the new film Brüno, Sasha Baron Cohen, the comedian/chameleon responsible for the real-life exploits of fictional louts like Ali G. and Borat Sagdiyev, sets a new standard for indelicacy. He once again demonstrates that he will do whatever it takes to make sure you cannot believe what you just saw him do.

Brüno is an Austrian fashion reporter, on the outs in the fashion world for a series of public faux pas. Ruined and desperate for the spotlight, any spotlight, he travels to America, the promised land of celebrity obsession, to seek fame and fortune on the cheap. His attempts at pop legitimacy cover the usual bases: taping a celebrity talk fest (punctuated with close-ups of his genitalia), adopting an African baby (which he checks as baggage on the flight home), and contriving to make a sex tape (with politician Ron Paul as his unwitting partner). When all of his plans go bust, he reasons that the snag must be his flamboyant homosexuality, and the film shifts its focus to document his efforts to “convert” to the other team in order to smooth the way to success. Brüno heads to the American South, naturally, to enlist the help of clergymen, drill sergeants, karate instructors and backwoods hunters in his bid to play it straight. But he proves to be both set in his ways and insatiable in his appetites. Crass and oblivious, he cuts a wide swath through our cultural landscape, leaving only angry, bewildered and mortified citizens in his wake.

Love him or hate him, Cohen is an expert provocateur, and tireless in his pursuit of maximum outrageousness. Like his other characters, Brüno is both a fool and a lens that magnifies the foolishness of others. His shenanigans often reveal the absurdities and hypocrisies that lie along the cherished paths of the straight and narrow. There can be no better example of this than the climactic scene of the film, in which Brüno appears reborn as “Straight Dave”, a mutton-chopped man’s man in sleeveless army camouflage. He rallies the crowd at an ultimate-fighting cage match by spitting homophobic vitriol, and when he receives a challenge from Lutz (Gustav Hammarsten), a spurned lover and former assistant, the two are locked in the cage to fight it out. The house goes crazy, hooting and cheering and reveling in the sweaty aggression they paid for, but when the grappling turns tender, and the two kiss and fall to the floor in a lovers’ embrace, a dizzying social reversal takes place. The fans are beside themselves—they avert their eyes or stare in horror; they scream and rail and shout profanity-laced protests (which take on an unintentionally supportive sexual connotation). Some claw desperately at the cage, a few burst into tears, powerless to stop the defiling of their altar of violence. It’s magic. When the fight is what you want, the cage is part of the thrill. But when the nature of the beast changes, the worm turns, and what holds the horror in just as effectively keeps the horrified out.

Brüno originally received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America; I shudder to think of what the filmmakers cut in order to garner a very hard R. Put simply, the content here is thoroughly inappropriate for children. Several scenes involve sustained, detailed, graphic depictions of hetero- and homosexual sex acts. Some are simulated; others are not. In most, the intersection where body parts touch is redacted with a black bar or box—for whatever that’s worth—but elsewhere the naughty parts are graphically, even gleefully displayed. We are subjected to a close-up penile puppet show, elaborate sex games and the bare-bodied sex of swinging couples. Bondage equipment and other sexual implements are shown in use. Indignities are doled out with all-inclusive abandon. In one scene, Mexican day laborers are used as furniture and a naked man is rolled out as a serving platter. There are jokes at the expense of autism, several references to Hitler, and one quip comparing a fashion show to a slave auction (that last one not entirely unfair, I think). There is lots of swearing and sexually explicit talk throughout, some of it derogatory of gays. As mentioned, the movie features cage-match violence and the apparent endangerment of children.

Neither for the young nor the squeamish, Brüno is a dubious achievement in the theater of embarrassment that is now one of our culture’s livelier arts. Enter at your own risk.

The film Funny People is about stand-up comedians. Stand-up comedians tell jokes, and jokes are sometimes dirty, and so this “red-band” trailer—the kind shown only before age-restricted films—has some dirty jokes, including quips about oral sex and violence against prostitutes.

Jared Peterson thinks there ought to be detox tents outside some movies. He most recently reviewed Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

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