Sacha Baron Cohen may have won an army of fans in America on the back of his escapades as Kazaksthan reporter Borat, but as an Austrian gay fashion television host makes for a poor follow up. Gone is the innocence, or at least the perceived innocence, that came with a foreign television celebrity trying to understand foreign customs and in its place comes a none-too-subtle character who is just too in-your-face gay to take seriously and as a result Bruno gets fewer laughs despite Sacha Baron Cohen going to greater lengths to shock and put people who normally occupy a lofty position in America in uncomfortable situations they could only have imagined in their nightmares.
Cohen’s Bruno is (supposedly) a 19-year-old Austrian fashionista who was thrown off the airwaves in his homeland and is now seeking to make himself a global icon by travelling to America where he will do all he can to jump from the Z-list to the A-list. It’s all just an excuse for Cohen to interview celebrities and authoritative Americans in a bid to make them squirm at his outlandish gay eccentricities in a format not that too dissimilar to predecessor Borat. First we get Bruno doing his thing as a “star” in his homeland, explaining he’s down with every designer, then he makes his break for the States, though rather than exploring its culture he just wants to get famous. Given that Borat appeared naive and his customs odd thanks to his claims he was from Kazakhstan, Bruno falters due to a reliance on shock tactics that are little more than playing on gay stereotypes.
Bruno falters due to a reliance on shock tactics that are little more than playing on gay stereotypes.
Bruno, it seems, is addicted to sex — he can’t stop thinking about it and chats up every man he meets, including an ageing politician he tries to bed by taking him into a hotel bedroom alone. Its an obvious, almost cringeworthy tactic that loses the more innocent humour of Borat where he would surprise us with his outbursts. Seeing a man pretending to be gay come onto another man who clearly isn’t is done enough on television comedy shows that we don’t need to see it on the big screen even if they are more risky targets. The results are the same, ending in said target leaving the room in disgust, and aren’t likely to win Bruno many fans in the gay community.
Cohen continues with the shock tactics when he “adopts” a black child and then flaunts him on a Jeremy Kyle-style show featuring him and several naked men in a jacuzzi with the boy. Here the humour works better, picking holes at the daytime television we all guiltily watch, though it is more of a stunt than a well-placed element of a feature-length movie, essentially why Bruno is more Ali G that Borat. Cohan’s character is so steeped in stereotype that he leaves no room to develop: Ali G was a white man trying to be black, Bruno is an outwardly gay wannabe fashion icon — these are shallow figures. Cohen seemed more at home as Borat as he talked to his targets for longer, building up a rapport. Here Bruno jumps straight to the (gay) chase and misses the subtleties so desperately needed. Cohen had better have a long, hard think about his next big screen incarnation and should also consider moving away from the guerilla-style documentary or he’ll wind up a parody of himself… though perhaps that’s his intention. You will laugh along to Bruno, it just feels too forced to really satisfy.