After being thrown out of the fashion world and sacked from his TV show Funkyzeit, Austrian media sensation Brüno goes to Los Angeles to reinvent himself and become a big, gay star...
How do you follow Borat, a film that exploded comedy conventions and made its audience horribly complicit in the laughs it generated, almost all at the expense of other people? Well, the sad news is that Brüno reveals you can't. Though it pushes discomfort to an often unbearable degree, going way, way further than Borat, with graphic anal sex jokes, a talking penis and a simulated rimming scene that lasts an eternity for the poor clairvoyant who claims to have summoned up Milli (or is it Vanilli?), this lurching, ragged patchwork really doesn't ever scale the same awkward heights.
The story, such as it is, practically follows the same blueprint, and instead of hiking across America to woo Pamela Anderson, Brüno makes a brief stop in the Middle East as part of a plan to stop the troubles there, and then goes to California, trying various short cuts to celebrity — making a sex tape, adopting an African baby, recording a charity song — along the way. But the problem is, where Borat was an adorable, bumbling buffoon, Brüno is a shrill, vain, unsympathetic narcissist. Borat's targets were always prepared to cut him some slack. Not so Brüno: if they haven't already worked it out, they either leave abruptly or play a guarded game. As a result, few scenes really last long, and there's nothing on a par with Borat's driving lesson, or that excruciating dinner party in Alabama.
There was also a point to Borat. America sees itself as a melting pot, and that film was about testing that claim: is everyone really accepted there? Funnily enough — and it was funny — the answer was pretty much yes. Brüno, though, has no clear purpose. What is it satirising exactly? Celebrity? Homophobia? Xenophobia (again)? It lunges, often quite successfully, at all three, but without any rhyme or reason. It feels thrown together in the editing room — which Borat did too, but in a good way — and relies too much on easy targets, like the model who gushes about how hard it is to put one leg in front of the other, or the greedy stage parents who'll do anything for money. Most disappointing of all is a dreadful celebrity singalong that simply feels glued onto the end.
Despite its flaws, though, there are some genius moments — Brüno's baby photos, his short-lived career as a soap actor, his shooting trip with some very unhappy campers — and what little heart it has comes courtesy of his sidekick Lutz (Hammarsten), his ex-assistant's lovestruck assistant who follows him from Austria. Filling the Azamat slot, Lutz adds a much-needed, gawky innocence to the proceedings. And innocence is in short supply here. On this evidence, Sacha Baron Cohen has been well and truly rumbled, and it's hard to imagine he'll ever be the undercover clown again.
A patchy, hit-and-miss comedy with a few outrageous highs and a lot of just-okay padding, Brüno suggests that Sacha Baron Cohen's in-your-face fool routine sadly isn't working any more.