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Universal // R // November 17, 2009
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 8, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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After raking in more than a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide with Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen has gotten a full-body wax and dipped back into Da Ali G Show well for another go-around. Brüno sticks to pretty much the same formula as before: an oddball media personality from the other end of the globe trots over to these shores, stages skits where pretty much everyone winds up being an unwitting extra, and scores most of its laughs from people just being themselves, blissfully unaware that there's even a joke for them to not be in on.

That's the idea, at least. Even if it doesn't really hold up the second time through, Borat works because there's something so disarming and sweetly innocent about the guy. It's enough for some people to let their guard down and feel comfortable enough to air out just how judgmental or racist they are. Some of 'em just want to be polite, so they keep squirming and suffering through all that quirk until they hit the breaking point. Others never really even clue in that they're the butt of a joke. It works because of the way Cohen's sketched Borat...that even with as repulsive as some of what he says and does can be, that Kazakhstani journalist is really just a clueless schlub who hasn't quite figured out how to fit in. Brüno, meanwhile, is a raging asshole. Gratingly loud, hyperflamboyant, and always on the attack, Brüno doesn't have the attention span to coax much of anyone to roll over and expose their dark, sticky underbelly the way Borat could. No, he just wants to skip to the part where he lobs out another sight gag with a dildo, whips out another cock, or quips in un Austrian accent about shoving something up his Auschwitz. Brüno takes a stab at Xeroxing the Borat formula but almost entirely misses the point of what made it such a colossal success in the first place.

I guess there's something close enough to a story to recap. As the movie opens, Brüno is the host of Funkyzeit, Europe's top-rated German-language fashion show...outside of Germany, at least. Like Heidi sez, though: in fashion, one day you're in, und the next, you're out, and this fashion maven's chucked out after trashing Milan Fashion Week in a custom-made Velcro suit. He's persona non Brüno in the fashion world, he gets the axe from Funkyzeit...where does he go from here? C'mon, as if the answer's not completely obvious. Where do narcissistic famewhores always go...? Los Angeles! Yup, with his assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) dutifully trotting behind him like a lapdog, Brüno takes a stab at making it in America. He doesn't just stop at taking a meeting with an agent (who suffers through the sound of Brüno getting an anal bleaching on the other end of the phone) or a gig as an extra on Medium, though. He figures that the best way to be a celebrity is to pal around with 'em, so he tries to get a talk show off the ground, complete with a "keep it or abort it?" celebrity fetus segment and convincing Paula Abdul to sit
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on furniture made out of Mexican day laborers. No dice. The focus groups can't stomach a fiercely gay Austrian waving his dick around, so Brüno runs through a laundry list of other stunts to try to win over the American public. People like celebrity sex tapes, right? Brüno tries to seduce presidential candidate Ron Paul with a camera hidden in the corner. Ooh! Wait! Celebrity causes! All the good ones are taken, though, so Brüno takes a shot at shoring up peace in the Middle EarthEast, facing death at the hands of Hasidic Jews and getting Israel and Palestine to agree that, yes, hummus is made of beans. Wait, kidnapped foreigners are always on the news, right? What's the over/under that someone in Lebanon would wanna hold him for ransom? Nope. What's left...? If he pulled a Brangelina and imported a baby, maybe that'd be enough to get him on the cover of Us Weekly or something, but trashy talk show audiences aren't all that keen on a guy swapping a kid for an iPod or giving him a traditional African name like "O.J." When all that fails, Brüno's only shot at celebrity looks to be going cold turkey on the cock.

More than a couple of Brüno's best riffs were played over and over and over in the trailers, and the best of what's left are usually sight gags. Y'know, pulling elephant parts off an airport carousel, the deliriously over-the-top sybian rigs he and his fun-sized manservant dig up...that sort of thing. The only other laughs scattered around Brüno almost always come when people don't get that they're the butt of the joke. In the movie's best sequence, Brüno piles a bunch of overeager stage moms into a room, and they're so hellbent on shoving their kids in front of the camera that they'll agree to subject them to anything. Can your 30 lb. kid lose a third of her body weight in a week? No problem. Afraid of hornets or dead/dying animals? Oh, no. Maddy loves 'em. Any problems with lit phosphorus? Operating heavy machinery? Literally nothing Brüno lobs out is a dealbreaker, and there's hardly ever even any hesitation. It's howlingly funny and kind of depressing at the time. Another amazing sequence has Brüno taking a self-defense course to fend off any homosexuals that might try to attack him, and his instructor -- lugging around a beer gut and tattooed up and down -- doesn't
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bat an eye when an Austrian darts at him with two dildos and a strap-on.

There are a few brilliant bits where Brüno dupes someone into saying something completely offensive, like a minister who's trying to stomp out homosinuality and tears off on a rant about how annoying and insufferable women are. Homophobic and misogynistic...two for the price of one! Talk about Christian values. There's...not a lot of that, though. Borat had the patience to lull its targets into a false sense of security. Brüno, on the other hand, almost immediately goes for the jugular, barely letting anyone get a word in before tossing out a gag about fisting or waving another oversized dong around. The worst thing about Brüno is...well, Brüno. There aren't a lot of unsympathetic, wholly unlikeable assholes that can shoulder an entire movie. Part of its goal is to satirize homophobia, but...c'mon, it has nothing to do with being uncomfortable with gays. Brüno's such an over-the-top cariacture in the first place, and a lot of what unspools here isn't everyday homophobia so much as people not being all that keen on having dicks waved in their faces. There's a scene where Brüno's palling around with some Alabama good-ol'-boys in the woods, and he keeps busting into their tents in the wee hours of the morning, the last time bare-assed naked. Well...yeah. Woken out of a dead sleep with some naked guy he'd only met a few hours earlier trying to snuggle up next to him...? Who wouldn't be pissed? Unless it were some completely unrealistic Penthouse Forum scenario, I sure as hell wouldn't want anyone of any gender springing that on me. Two mostly-naked guys raiding a God Hates Fags rally? Brilliant. Sparking a riot with his "man-slammin' maxout" UFC-octagon-flavored free-for-all? Amazing. A meandering, devastatingly unfunny, and kinda staged feeling riff with Brüno signing up with the National Guard? Not so much.

Brüno is quick to lean on shock value as a crutch, and especially for people like me who are too jaded and cynical for that to leave much of a mark, the comedy's really hit or miss. I'll admit to being impressed with just how much Sacha Baron Cohen was able to slink past the MPAA, from a penis shouting "Brüno!" to giving the ghost of half of Milli Vanilli anilingus and a reacharound, but being able to get away with a lot doesn't mean he manages to do anything all that clever with it. Brüno can be inhumanly funny, sure, but it's not funny enough, and it definitely pales in comparison to what Borat delivered a few years back. A hefty percentage of the best stuff could've been done with any character instead of capitalizing on what could've made Brüno great, and not bothering to explore how actual gay men would react around a one-note cariacture like this seems like a colossally missed opportunity. Oh well. Rent It.

At least Brüno looks pretty great in high-def. It has its hiccups, sure -- the cameras really struggle when the lights are dialed down, drenching every square inch of the screen in video noise, and there's no real depth to the image -- but there's generally still a really strong sense of texture and detail. Even the video noise is tightly rendered, clear, and distinct. A few scattered stretches are a bit soft, and some standard definition footage has been spliced in, such as pretty much everything on Dick Bey's show. I get the impression that this Blu-ray disc is completely faithful to the original photography, and...yeah, that's about as good as it gets.

Brüno is served up on a dual-layer platter, and the 1.85:1 video has been encoded with AVC.

Brüno belts out a pretty unremarkable 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The sound design's pretty much what you'd expect out of a faux-documentary, though, with the conversations lurching out of the center channel cleanly and clearly, most of the action rooted up front, and the surrounds reserved to reinforce the music and to flesh out ambience like crashing thunder or a rowdy, PBR-swilling extreme fighting crowd. The low-end, meanwhile, packs a wallop with the stack of that throbbing Euro-club-synth bass and all.

This track does the job, sure, but the lossless audio's kinda forgettable, and it's not much of a leap over what I'd expect to hear on DVD. Also included are lossy DTS 5.1 dubs in Spanish and French along with a Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

  • Alternate Scenes (6 min.; HD): Alternate versions of a few skits have been tossed on here, including Pete Rose asking for a different Mexican to sit on and Brüno trying to dupe Tom Ridge into shooting a sex tape with him.

  • Extended Scenes (22 min.; HD): There's a
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    lot more of agent Lloyd Robinson in the second of the alternate/extended/deleted/whatever-scene reels, such as Brüno filling him in on Get Over It!, a show where mourning families score home makeovers. The best stuff...? A minister digging around for proof that Brüno really is trying to marry a woman along with Brüno asking an overeager stage mom if he can drop her kid out a fourth story window. (The answer's "yes, absolutely!", by the way.)

  • Deleted Scenes (41 min.; HD): This is the last extra with "scenes" in the title: pinky swear. It's kinda funny thinking that I wasn't really all that keen on the movie itself, but I really, really dug some of these unused scenes. Brüno asks fashionistas what kind of a makeover they'd give Hitler, asks a party planner how he'd gussy up a concentration camp, has a real estate agent help him figure out what kinds of Hispanic slaves show the least bruising, and busts up a Prop 8 rally. He stomps around a white supremacist's house half-naked, gets over heartbreak at a Dallas Cowboys training camp, and opens up about the brutal murder of his mother...y'know that old story...saliva, hairdryers...we've gotta be vigilant so this sort of tragedy never happens again. Some of it's mostly laughless setup, like a way-too-patient interview for a gig with a Texan news team, and the mocking of a molecular scientist who can't speak just seems cruel. About half of this stuff is great, though, and you do get to see Brüno hit La Toya Jackson up for Emm Jay's phone number along with mostly-naked Austrians chained together in a shopping mall.

  • Interview with Lloyd Robinson (6 min.; HD): The talent agent Brüno recruited talks about how he first got ensnared in this whole thing and mentions that he thought his client had really hit it big when he saw a colossal billboard for the movie out in L.A.

  • Enhanced Commentary: Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles sit down to hammer out this commentary track that includes some picture-in-picture video, but what truly sets it apart is that they'll periodically freeze the movie so they can really dissect it. This means that the enhanced version of Brüno clocks in at 108 minutes -- nearly half an hour longer than the theatrical release, even. Some of the highlights...? Accidentally shoving the nozzle of a fire extinguisher up the ass of Brüno's pygmy Kiki-type, the hypercovert measures they took to bust into the Milan fashion shows, a chair in the police station getting stuck on Brüno's Velcro suit after being arrested, plowing through red lights at 80 miles an hour to duck the Secret Service, running the risk of having security extract Cohen from a Jordanian palace, trying to avoid being beaten to death by a 'bama redneck lugging around a flashlight, defending against an attack by a swinger with an erection, managing to break his thumb during one bit, putting on a second cagefight since he, uh, nearly got murdered doing the first one, and recording a charity song in Abbey Road. Charles and Cohen also point out who was in on the joke, how few people actually recognized Brüno, and run through some of the beats in the plot. I think I liked the movie more with with the commentary than without it, really. The two of 'em also mention some footage that isn't anywhere on this disc, like Tara Reid sitting down for Brüno's Mexican-day-laborer-furniture talk show, so maybe a way-more-special-edition is lurking somewhere off in the shadows.

Oh, and there's a digital copy on a second disc for use on iPods and Windows Media-powered devices. The flipside of the case says something about a Pocket Blu app with a few more bells and whistles for iPhones and iPod Touches. What that is, exactly...? No idea.

The Final Word
Brüno aims more for jaw-agape stunned silence than laughs, confusing deliriously over-the-top shock value with...y'know, an actual sense of humor. Borat was a ridiculous amount of fun, watching the folks around him squirm uncomfortably or letting their guard down long enough to say something completely outta left field. Brüno, meanwhile, just wants to tally up how many different ways it can flash a dick around. I'm not going to sit here stonefaced and pretend it's not funny -- I laughed a lot -- but Brüno misses more than it hits, and that coupled with the complete repulsiveness of this raging prick can make the movie pretty tough to trudge through. Enough of it works for Brüno to still be worth checking out, but this is a pretty steep freefall after the near-brilliance of Borat, and I...can't really picture myself wanting to give it another spin any time soon. Rent It.

Sorry, Once Again Snapped Too Many Screengrabs
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