- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Let us leave aside for a moment the relative merits of “Bruno,” the new comedy from “Borat” and “Da Ali G Show” star Sacha Baron Cohen. Let us also leave aside the reaction audiences will have to the boundary-pushing comedian.

Instead, let us first consider this fact: By granting “Bruno” an R rating instead of the original NC-17 it had received, the Motion Picture Association of America has effectively thrown its hands up in resignation and said to filmmakers, “Do the craziest thing you can think of, cut a small portion of that, throw in a few black bars that don’t really obscure what’s happening when hard-core sex is depicted, and have at it.”

It’s hard to imagine the MPAA being able to hand down an NC-17 to any drama after sitting through 88 minutes of film in which genitals (both male and female) are thrust onto the screen so often, objects are inserted so frequently into various orifices and orgies are documented so happily.

But enough with the puritanical hand-wringing. Is “Bruno” funny?

Yes and no. As a critique of the excesses and vapidity of celebrity culture - the movie follows a gay Austrian fashionista’s quest to become famous in America - “Bruno” is sometimes quite funny. And as a critique of the excesses of homophobia - he turns to a church that specializes in turning gays straight - “Bruno” can be downright hilarious.

Where the movie doesn’t work is when Mr. Baron Cohen provokes a reaction by going to extremes himself. Stripping naked and climbing into the tent of a sleeping redneck in order to provoke him to violence isn’t a clever comment on the homophobia of Middle America; it’s a form of assault designed to incite someone to violence.

Still, Mr. Baron Cohen is a master at putting real people into faux documentary situations they can’t control and giving them just enough rope to hang themselves. One of the highlights of “Bruno” is an encounter between the title character and a series of abusive stage parents who have brought in their infants to interview for a shot at an on-camera appearance.

As the demands escalate into ever-more-ridiculous territory - he asks the parents if they would mind having their infants lose 10 lbs. and get liposuction or appear on a crucifix - it’s hard not to laugh while simultaneously forcing back tears for the poor children who have those monstrous parents.

In the end, “Bruno” simply isn’t as funny as “Borat”; the belly laughs just aren’t there, and the escapades seem more contrived than before. Mr. Baron Cohen is too often forcing the issue instead of letting the humor emerge organically.

★★

TITLE: “Bruno”

RATING: R (pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Larry Charles

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www.thebrunomovie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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