Uneven, but at its best, brilliant
THE weekend before last, a story hit the headlines about a naked man who claimed he was a Terminator sent from the future. The individual concerned was arrested on the California/Nevada border and charged with indecent exposure and resisting a police officer.
The 19-year-old was suffering from the effects of LSD and marijuana, but when I first heard about this story, my first instinct was: is this naked ‘Terminator’ Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest creation?
The British comic specialises in creating outrageous characters who meet celebrities and members of the public, and then broadcasting the results. He did it with spectacular success in ‘Borat’, in which his Kazakh reporter went across America to gain a better understanding of US culture (and attempted to marry ‘Baywatch’ star Pamela Anderson).
Now Cohen is back with ‘Brüno’, an outrageously camp gay Austrian fashionista, who is black-listed in Europe after ruining Milan Fashion Week and heads for the States in an effort to become ‘the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler’.
At its best, ‘Brüno’ is very, very funny – and allows quite a few unpleasant people to make fools of themselves. ‘American Idol’ judge Paula Abdul talks about helping others while sitting on a Mexican cleaner. Parents so desperate to have their children’s names in lights agree to have experiments conducted on their kids. Brüno nods solemnly as a ‘gay converter’ warns him not to listen to Sinéad O’Connor or the Village People, and asks him after a particularly virulent anti-gay speech: “Are you hitting on me?”
There’s some great word play. Brüno notes that Darfur is the focus of much charity work now, but wants to know what’s the next big thing – ‘what’s Dar-five?’ Getting together Israelis and Palestinians, he confuses Hamas and hummus, asking: “Why are you so against Hamas? Isn’t pitta bread the real enemy?”
Cohen’s bravery is laudable also – remaining in character at all times, and sometimes at considerable risk to himself. “You must produce a lot of milk,” he tells a woman at a swingers party who has just gone topless and reacts angrily to his efforts to avoid having sex with her.
At times, however, the film seems to be targeting people who have done little wrong. The American presidential candidate Ron Paul is corralled in a bedroom as Brüno propositions him. A largely African-American crowd are horrified as the lead character reveals his black designer baby, and shows photographs of him in a variety of questionable positions – but is the hostile reaction he evokes not proof of concern for the child’s welfare rather than homophobia?
Comparisons with ‘Borat’ are inevitable. In both cases, there’s plenty of nudity and lots to offend everyone, and most cinema-goers will spend much of their time watching through their hands. Yet while there was a recognisable beginning, middle and end in Cohen’s first outing, ‘Brüno’ feels more like a series of sketches – and some work much better than others. And while it was possible to feel sorry for the Kazakh in his low moments, Brüno is a boor, unpleasant to almost everybody (including his besotted assistant) and with an unapologetically shallow aim – worldwide fame.
The charity song which Brüno records reflects the best and worst of times – he’s hanging out with celebrities, who should be the subject of his satire, but the lyrics are top class. Having described himself as ‘the Austrian Jesus’ and ‘the white Obama’, Brüno has a message: “Stop fighting North and South Korea, you’re both basically Chinese.”
For all its faults, it is intermittently brilliant, and includes some of the funniest scenes of the year.