Sacha Baron Cohen conceived Ali-G and Borat as idiot-innocents to expose casual racism and xenophobia. Bruno is an idiot-innocent designed to shake out latent homophobia.
Next up: Baron Cohen in camp but convincing drag (Brenda? Bridget?) taking on institutionalised sexism…
Maybe not, but rather than evolve and set up a different gag, Baron Cohen continues to move sideways – tweaking his tried and trusted raw material until it’s surface-fresh.
As a movie, Bruno is funny, filthy and lands a few sharp punches on the noses of facile media whores, preening fashionistas, and bearpit talk-show hosts. But as a character who already feels vaguely familiar (catchphrases, stupid outfits, whipping-boy sidekick), 90-odd minutes in his company is a big ask.
Ali-G and Borat began life as bite-sized regular TV slots. Bruno has more or less arrived fully formed – but, as with his predecessors, less would definitely be more.
Baron Cohen has smartly tried to keep the conceit alive by refusing to do interviews out of character. But as a result, Bruno’s barbs have been blunted by over-exposure - the joke feels old barely half-way through.
Three years ago, Borat was a series of fused-together TV sketches that just about hung together as a feature. Bruno is like browsing through a bunch of YouTube videos – most of them individually hilarious, but stodgy and bloating in a single sitting.
Baron Cohen’s strength is in his suicidal commitment: taunting a cage-fighting crowd about their hetero credentials, graphically simulating analingus in front of a mortified ‘psychic’, interviewing the leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs and insisting that Osama Bin Laden looks like “a homeless Santa Claus”…
But for every edgy showpiece stunt, there’s a clearly scripted (or at least pre-arranged) prank that clunks – and a cut to a pointless, filler sub-plot that tracks Bruno’s relationship with his dour handler.
The writing is tight and Baron Cohen breezes through the shonky sections on sheer audacity, but it’s a film of great bits – not a great film.
“Al Qaeda is so 2001!” Bruno informs the Al-Aqsa guy. Uhuh. And Bruno is all very 2006...