DIRECTED BY Larry Charles
STARRING Sacha Baron Cohen
Whatever you may think of Sacha Baron Cohen, you have to admire his balls. And, certainly, you’re more than likely to get ample opportunity to do so here. In his latest guise as Bruno, Vienna’s gay fashionista who’s intent on making it in LA as a celebrity, the programmatic nature of Baron Cohen’s work becomes all too apparent; although his chutzpah is admirable. As with Ali G and Borat, Bruno is set up to expose the narrow-mindedness, general idiocy and bigotry of its targets. If Bruno comes unstuck it’s because the targets are just too easy: the fashion world, celebrities, Los Angeles, the religious right, rednecks. You might think it’s like shooting particularly dim fish in a stupid barrel when he asks, for instance, a set of blonde twins who work in PR for an LA-based charity organisation what the “hot” causes are right now; where Darfur is (they don’t know) and what they reckon “Dar Five” might be.
But it’s definitely the squirm-inducing moments when he scores. A meeting with a member of an Arab terrorist organisation in Bethlehem is almost a suicidal gesture, when Bruno says “Your King Osama looks like a dirty wizard or a homeless Santa Claus.” A visit to a TV studio erupts into a near-riot when he introduces his newly adopted black baby that he’s given the “a traditional African name” of OJ. He goes on a hunting trip with men with guns only to visit them, one by one, in the night in various states of undress.
To get Bruno, perhaps, it’s best to suspend your disbelief and see it as a cousin to Punk’d or Candid Camera, but one driven by a harder satirical edge; there is certainly no big, on-camera reveal that lets the butt of Baron Cohen’s humour in on the joke. A sequence where Bruno tries to persuade former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul into making a sex tape is hilarious; and there’s a nice touch when a hidden camera catches Paul walking down a hotel corridor speaking in tones of disbelief at what he’s just endured.
It’s only at the end, where Bruno records a charity record, that things fall apart. He ropes in Bono, Sting, Elton John and Chris Martin among others; people, clearly, familiar with Baron Cohen’s work and presumably happy to send themselves up. Which is really turning the point on its head; surely, they should all be made to look as ludicrous as the civilians Baron Cohen lampoons.