One of the many funny scenes in Bruno has him speaking to Celebrity Charity PR Consultants. In case that job title wasn’t a joke in itself, they are searching for a cause to support that will make Bruno world famous. The conversation starts something like this: “Is there a cause in the world that you’re really into?” to which Bruno noddingly replies, “Well I’m really into issues.”
This is Bruno in a nutshell (or a handbag). The focus and lack of focus on “issues” is what makes Sacha Baron Cohen’s best moments and what breaks his newest movie. As an attack on celebrity culture, Bruno offers a few swift heel stomps to the eyes. As a marathon of ridiculing the insatiable desire for fame, it makes it across the finish line. As a pointed plea for pro-gay, pro-sex values, it cowboy boots the groin. These are the things that are getting it an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (for comparison, Public Enemies is at 65%). Gay sex jokes alone probably don’t get you an 80%. But the social critique that underlies Bruno’s reckless ignorance is really pretty thin.
It takes some focus to go from funny to great. Focus is something that’s not in Bruno’s wo-cabulary. The movie jumps quickly from Los Angeles, where it targets both sides of the TMZ crowd, to the deep South, where its beef is with religious and racial isolationists. Bruno uses his own stupidity to make each unsuspecting dolt look bigoted and naive. They’re pot shots, but not undeserved and certainly funny either way.
Bruno struts his booty shorts into an ultimate fighting competition, a backwoods hunting trip, and a living room that hasn’t been redecorated since it was owned by Edward Rutledge. There he speaks to a “homosexual converter” (a profession, not a toy). In each situation, he rhetorically roofies his unsuspecting counter-subjects, takes off their pants and whips them with his D&G belt of liberal values.
You get more “oh no he didn’t” moments in the South, but it’s the terrorist-inspiring vapidity of LA that makes the better villain. The real problem isn’t that there is too much of one and not enough of the other. The problem is that for all its laughs, Bruno amounts to little more than a series of very funny gay sex jokes. Most of the laughs come not from the beauty pageant-dumb comments, like a model discussing the difficulties of walking, but from the tension and release of seeing a very tall man get in and out of some very tight situations. Once or twice, I really felt for the guy, and more times than that, I feared for his life.
So the saddest thing isn’t that our nation’s morals can be tidily summed up by a reality show where attractive judges mock celebrity fetuses. It’s that Bruno’s dream trip to the island of celebrity ends in a flash flood. Eighty-three minutes, it turns out, isn’t enough time to edit together a collection of funny scenes and to make a cohesive social statement. Nine times out of ten I’d take the latter over the former, but just this once, let’s clink glasses to the other 10%.
Keep it or abort it? Keep it, but try not to spoil it.
Bruno comes out this Friday, pretty much everywhere.