by John Nolte
Posted Jul 8th 2009 at 6:04 pm
One of the great Hollywood con jobs of the last five years was in convincing a mostly indifferent American public that a film with fewer domestic ticket sales than “Click,” “Mission Impossible III,” “Over the Hedge” and “Superman Returns” was some sort of cultural phenomenon. Wildly profitable? Sure. But any reasonable analysis of a modest $127 million haul shouldn’t be described as anything nearing a “phenomenon.” Luckily for “Borat” (2006) the right people were on board to hype up this nonsense-machine.
The “right people,” naturally, are mostly coastal elites who loved watching the everyday folks they so loathe cynically set up and manipulated to a point where they could be edited into unappealing, buffoonish caricatures, which isn’t to say a few weren’t truly unappealing and buffoonish, or that when it wasn’t gross-out disgusting the adventures of Sacha Baron Cohen’s clueless foreigner didn’t serve up a few honestly-earned laughs. But just the thought of joining up with the superior, self-satisfied smugs imperiously chuckling from Hollywood Hills and Manhattan skyscrapers as their personal jester demeaned we peasants cast a mean-spirit over everything.
With “Bruno,” and to his eternal credit, the Jester has turned on his masters and as we’ve seen in all those “Does ‘Bruno’ go too far?” articles, not surprisingly, many of them find turnabout unfair play. Because it’s now celebrity culture and other protected classes (gays and blacks) also facing Baron Cohen’s withering fire, suddenly what was once so daring, illuminating, brave and hilarious - guffaws at the expense of others - must now be met with beard scratching over “false gayness” and heavy, solemn pauses due to a “nasty streak.”
If you define politically incorrect as I do - having the guts to satirize the Left’s sacred cows (or everything Stewart, Letterman and Maher don’t do) - ”Bruno” hits the mark with an across the board ambush which, because everyone’s taking fire, goes a long way to mitigate the mean-spiritedness that made “Borat” such an exercise in elitist cruelty. The downside, and it’s a steep one, is that “Bruno” is relentlessly smutty and lewd, packed with full-frontal male nudity (much of it in close-up), outrageous but explicit portrayals of gay sex, and most disturbing, a swingers’ orgy with only the smallest of black dots to avoid an X-rating. This is easily the most off-putting film in years.
A series of increasingly disturbing, ambush-style set pieces designed for uncomfortable laughter revolve around the thin plot of a flamboyantly gay Austrian television host who, with his faithful gay assistant Luntz, comes to America seeking fame, celebrity and to be the biggest “gay star since Arnold Schwarzenegger.” At first Bruno tries the conventional Hollywood route with an agent who helps to set up a pilot for a celebrity interview show. After this crashes and burns, Bruno starts to re-think the whole “gay” thing and hopes success can be found if he “man’s up” with, among other things, a stint in the National Guard, self-defense courses and a sexual re-orientation ministry.
There are some truly funny moments, dozens of them, in fact, and many of the situations are even inspired. Watching Bruno destroy a fashion show, take the adopted black baby he named O.J. on a Jerry Springer-ish talk show, get permission from degenerate stage mothers to put their young children in danger and criticize Osama bin Laden’s sense of fashion to one of his underlings, is to bear witness to moments of real comic genius. But for every one of these there are at least five seedy others that make you want to take a shower and go to confession.
There’s another comedy line breached that has nothing to do with the explicit content. Frequently the narrative gets lazy and asks us to consciously laugh only at the idea we’re being shocked - only at the idea of how explicit and revolting things get. You can almost hear the filmmakers bragging like children, “Can you believe we got an R-rating?”
No. I can’t.
Over time the relentless nudity and crudity starts to wear. Even though you’re laughing, at the same time you’re hoping the next scene gives it a rest. But as the film rolls on things only get worse until - even though you’re still laughing - you can’t wait for it to come to an end.
As far as all the talk about whether or not “Bruno’s” homophobic , the answer is absolutely not. Unlike Baron Cohen’s victims, those everyday people who mind their own business, the Bruno character is fictional and obviously satiric. The only possible “homophobic” moment comes from former presidential candidate Ron Paul who calls Bruno a “queer” after the Austrian Fashionista makes a crude pass at him. Personally, I think GLAAD should award Paul a medal for tolerance. Gay or straight, Bruno deserved to get knocked on his ass.
I think it was Andy Warhol who said that after ten minutes of watching porn he wanted to have sex with everyone, but after an hour he never wanted to have sex again. That pretty well sums up sitting through “Bruno.”