Brüno (18)

2.00

All in the worst possible taste

How far can you go? Put that question to Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen's flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista, and he would most likely provide you with an explicit demonstration involving sex toys and human orifices.

That far. Now the subject of his own mockumentary, Brüno doesn't so much push the envelope as tear it into squares and use it as bog-roll. There are provocations here so inflam-matory they make you wonder how on earth the cast and crew managed to escape with their lives. Like the scene in which a half-naked Brüno parades through an orthodox neighbourhood in Israel and then has to flee a posse of furious Hasidic Jews. Or the scene inwhich he shows off his black baby ('I called him OJ') to a daytime TV audience of outraged African-Americans. Orthe scene in which he goes hunting in thewoods with a trio of rifle-toting good ol' boys whom he tries to seduce in theirtentsafter lights out. The busiest person on the set, you suspect, was Baron Cohen's getaway driver.

This might be a more pertinent question: How far can you go and still be funny? Baron Cohen and his team of writers and producers scored a huge anddeserved hit with their2006comedyBorat, setting the bar of obnoxiousness so high as to seem in constant danger of breaking their necks. Yet Borat, for all his crude antipathies towards Jews, Gypsies, gays and women, was adifferent creature, venturing so deeply into cluelessness and gaucherie that hecameout the other side looking amiable. He was a badly-dressed bumpkin whose journey of discovery to America put a whole new slant on the innocent abroad. What made him so funny was that he managed to be offensive and weirdly charming at the same time.

That trick has not been repeated here. Brüno is possessed of something, but it's definitely not charm. Where Borat seemed ingenuous, Brüno is altogether more knowing, and his avowed career plan – 'I wanna be a shtar in a huge Hollywood movie' – puts us on alert. For starters, he's already got his ownTV fashion show ('Funkyzeit mit Brüno'), so his subsequent naivety about the media – on which the whole comedy is premised – feels utterly bogus. The story begins with Brüno's ostracism from the fashion world after he misbehaves at one of the shows: or, as he puts it, 'For the second time in a century the world had turned on Austria's greatest man, just because he tried something different.' His crypto- Nazi leanings is another unpleasant little dab of character that's designed to alienate. And so, like many a talentless half-wit before him, he heads out for Los Angeles in enthusiastic pursuit of celebrity, accompanied by a slavish personal assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), who happens to love him. In this regard he is surely unique.

Brüno, the film, shares with Borat a fascination with the grotesque distortinglens of fame, with what people, mostly Americans, are prepared to do and say if they know a camera is trained on them. One-time popstar Paula Abdul, for example, is tricked into talking about her charity work, but when she's been invited to sit upon a Latino gardener ('Mexican chair people,' Brüno styles them) for that interview, pieties such as'You give love to other people' have ahollow ring. Brüno, the star, however, keeps scrambling our responses, because he is often more contemptible than the people he sets up. Somehow, hewangles an interview in a hotel room with one-time US Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who eventually storms outofthe place, complaining, quite truthfully, that his interviewer made a pass at him. I found his affronted reaction perfectly understandable. Later, Brüno visits a pastor who specialises in 'converting' gays to the ways of straightness, and seeks advice as to what heterosexual activity he might safely pursue. The pastor's suggestion that he lift weights – 'there's nothing like building up your muscles around other men who aren't gay' – is abjectly laughable, but hisevident sincerity in wanting to help makes him more sympathetic to us than his secret tormentor.

Occasionally, Brüno's wilful ignorance hits the funny bone dead-on. On a visit totheMiddle East he sets up a dialogue between a hard-line Israeli and his Palestinian oppo, with himself in the role of peacemaker (he's heard that's what celebrities do). Typically, Brüno manages to confuse Hamas with hummus, andsoonobliges the Israeli to point out, with amazing forbearance, 'We both agree that hummus is very healthy.' They both agree, announces Brüno – job done! But the dreadful 'peace' song he then sings for them isn't funny at all, and the way he gets the enemies to join hands is horribly embarrassing. (I watched much of this film through latticed fingers). The scene illustrates a notable, and regrettable, weakness in the film-makers' mindset – it's the point at which humour edges almost into nihilism. Nothing has any meaning outside of mockery; ours is a world of vanity and gullibility, goes the thinking, so let's just keep poking a stick at it. There's something joyless about this perspective, and it's oddly exhausting, too. Some might find the contrivance ingenious – how, for instance, did they manage to get Brünoinside a swingers' orgy? Was that dominatrix for real? But when you start puzzling over the the complicity involved the joke withers and dies.

This isn't to say that Brüno will not beamassive hit. There's an appetite for 'out-there' comedy, and the 18 certificate the film has been awarded will tip the wink to audiences: if you thought Borat (only a 15) was outrageous... Of course, there are laughs, and if audacity were the only principle by which film-making achievement were judged the movie would be a knockout. But having groaned and winced through most of its 83 minutes I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'