posted July 06, 2009 02:07:00 PM CDT | 78 comments

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After a lesser-known feature film debut with Ali G Indahouse, Sascha Baron Cohen took another of his Ali G Show characters and created Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The part-scripted, part improved mockumentary is a legitimate new comedy classic, and while the effect is a bit diluted with third of his characters in Brüno, Cohen’s flair for inappropriate humor is still going strong.
Brüno is definitely entertaining—there’s so much craziness going on from one minute to the next that you’re bound to laugh at it the whole way through. Without ruining the individual gags, nudity, violence and profanity are always worth mining for a laugh and Cohen handles them like a pro. The story is virtually identical to that of Borat (odd foreigner and his loyal assistant come to America with a camera, hijinks ensue) but it’s really only there as an ad-hoc way to link together the various stunts anyway.

What keeps this film from reaching a Borat level is really Borat itself. There are somehow still people left who fall for Cohen’s act, but it does seem like he had to try harder to find them than before. A much larger percentage of the movie is staged, and even when it’s not, people rarely react as explosively as you (or he) would imagine. The best moments in Borat came from people letting their guard down because the character mostly came off as a well-intentioned simpleton. In Brüno, Cohen often has to instigate his targets until anger is the only possible response—funny, but less unique.

While the Cohen’s purpose might be to expose people as homophobes, Brüno’s behavior is so over the top that the message is a bit muddled in the execution. Many of them are reacting to a legitimate annoyance more than his presumed homosexuality, and even those that are clearly less gay-friendly seem content to let him off the hook with a few eye rolls until he takes things too far. The Brüno character is more offensive than the reactions of some of the people he encounters, so while Brüno does features plenty of legitimate a-holes, Cohen himself is often one of them.

The best stuff here is still Cohen turning on a camera and slyly leading the subject down an embarrassing path; there’s just a lot less of that going on. Brüno relies mostly on shock value, and while most people like to say that they’re not easily shocked, they may find out that it isn’t as hard as they thought. As was the case with the show, Brüno is more interesting as a companion to Cohen’s other films than as its own entity, but issues aside, it’s a worthy addition to the family.

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