Mini Movie Review: 'Bruno'

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Bruno," the latest mock-documentary satiric ritual from comic provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen, may count as the summer's biggest misfire. Cohen made a huge hit in 2006 with "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," which simultaneously scandalized and delighted audiences with its combination of irony and slapstick. But if "Borat" was utterly of its moment in piercing American complacency and hypocrisy, "Bruno" seems fatally out of tune, with every staged encounter falling as flat as the protagonist's hot-ironed bob.

Like Borat, Bruno is taken from Cohen's TV program "Da Ali G Show." He's a gay, Austrian host of a fashion show. As "Bruno" opens, he makes a mess of a runway and is "schwartzlisted" from the industry. He attempts a comeback by going to Hollywood and, eventually, the Middle East and American South.

Whether it's a painful episode involving Bruno trying to trap presidential candidate Ron Paul into making a sex tape or trying to broker Arab-Israeli peace or his encounters with gay "converters" in Alabama, the skits in "Bruno" don't add up to anything substantive. At his best, Cohen resembles Jonathan Swift crossed with Andy Kaufman, in his almost Dada-esque indictments of self-righteousness and bigotry. But his targets in "Bruno" -- which seem to be vapid celebrity culture and Puritan sexual hang-ups -- are too easy. With stakes this low, Cohen's raunchy, puerile stunts are just that, nothing more.

-- Ann Hornaday

Bruno R, 88 minutes Contains pervasive, strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and profanity. Area theaters.

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