Universal Studios | 2009 | 82 mins. | Rated R
Brüno, the latest offering from Sacha Baron Cohen, is likely to be one of those films that people either love or hate, with very little middle ground. Smartly, Cohen apparently realized that it would be next to impossible to recreate the phenomenon that was Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. So instead of a sequel, he brought us another character from the Da Ali G Show, an over-the-top, flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista named Brüno. Anyone who expected Cohen might tone it down a bit for his second feature film was barking up the wrong tree. Brüno is just as vulgar and cringe inducing as Borat. But while I liked Borat, for me, Brüno missed the mark.
We are introduced to Brüno, the host of Funkyzeit, Austrian TV’s most important style show and a forum for Brüno to demonstrate his cheerful shallowness. (The “In or Out” segment declares autism to be “in,” while chlamydia is “out.”) But after causing a disaster at a fashion show, Brüno is fired. In his own words, “For the second time in a century, the world had turned on Austria’s greatest man.”
Blacklisted in Austria’s fashion world, Brüno’s only goal now is to become a famous celebrity, by any means necessary. That means heading off to Hollywood, with his devoted former assistant’s assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), in tow. He tries to become an actor, interview celebrities, create a successful television pilot, make a steamy sex tape appear on a talk show, adopt an African baby and, eventually, forge peace in the Middle East. Predictably, all of these attempts fail miserably; the comedic moments are born out of the reactions Brüno elicits from celebrities, politicians and other unsuspecting persons. Paula Abdul looks disgusted but agrees when Cohen instructs her to sit on a Mexican immigrant during an interview; congressman Ron Paul does his best to be polite, but reaches a breaking point that ends with him barking the word “queer” as if it were going out of style; a boisterous crowd of “totally heterosexual” wrestling fans have a collective fit when Cohen begins to kiss another man in the ring; mothers agree to put their children through the unthinkable just so their kids can score an acting job; a focus group is pushed to the edge after being shown unquestionably offensive footage.
In one scene, Brüno appears on a talk show in Dallas to talk about the difficulties of being a single parent to his African baby, O.J. He manages to offend the largely African-American audience with the things he says and does. They aren’t overreacting or behaving like bigots. Their response to Brüno is natural and appropriate given the circumstances; after all, little O.J. cost Brüno an iPod.
While Borat seemed liked such an innocent, albeit slightly naïve man who truly wanted to experience America, Brüno often comes across as a self-centered, mean-spirited, jerk who isn’t very likeable. With Borat, I felt sorry for him when some people mistreated him; when Brüno was mistreated, I couldn’t shake the feeling he deserved it.
While Brüno does have some genuinely fumy moments, the film seems much more contrived and forced than Borat. As I said earlier, some will find the film very funny, others will hate every second of it. t whatever your reaction, it will be your reaction. No two people will likely see it the same way.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation has a documentary look to it. Some scenes look digital while others have the clarity of film. Overall, the image seems very bright, which dilutes the colors and flattens skintones. Detail is visible, but not stunning, while black levels remain consistently strong. Universal has provided a solid, but not the best available, transfer for Brüno on DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix delivers big beats throughout the listening experience, with hard Euro-techno soundtrack selections offering a nice, firm rhythm to the track. The rest of the DVD is mostly regulated to interview segments, where both Brüno and the interviewees are easily understood. It’s a frontal track with limited directionality. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also available, along with an English DVS offering.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
Brüno offers the following special features:
• Enhanced Audio Commentary with Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles: The two discuss the studio logos and the credits — the duo then explains how they came up with the film’s gags, their thoughts on their unwitting subjects’ oft-times shocking responses to Brüno’s questions, and the methods they employed to get people to do and say, almost anything.
• Alternative Scenes (6 minutes): Two sequences are available, one centered around an interview with controversial baseball player Pete Rose and another that includes a montage of segments with U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, American Values President Gary Bauer, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.
• Deleted Scenes (36 minutes): Some rather uncomfortable appearances by Paula Abdul, La Toya Jackson (with several now-awkward references to Michael Jackson), and NBC news anchor Neal Barton, as well as other ordinary citizens, fashion industry workers, and international politicians.
• Extended Scenes (19 minutes): The best extension (or worst, depending on your personal tastes) features additional responses from the desperate parents Cohen interviews while casting children in a faux-production.
• An Interview with Lloyd Robinson (HD, 6 minutes): Talent and Literary Agent Lloyd Robinson is the focus of this brief, amusing piece.
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