The full title for the 2006 movie Borat reads, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Brüno arrives in theaters stripped of such a quirkily long moniker, but it’s already been given a more appropriate mock title by bloggers. It reads, Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt.
British comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen stars in both films, which revolve around his now well-established “ambush-journalism” shtick. Cohen first got noticed when he introduced his character Ali G to Britain in the late 1990s. And pretty much the whole world has paid the price ever since.
It’s a steep price, too. Brüno arrives in theaters wielding graphic nudity, perverse sex and satirical prejudice as weapons of war, quite literally daring you to gag, daring you to complain, daring you to cover your eyes, daring you to get up and leave the theater in disgust.
Brüno, a disgraced Austrian fashion reporter of sorts, is desperate to become “world-famous!!!” He doesn’t care how or why. And he tries absolutely everything that flits across the surface of his abysmally underdeveloped soul to reach his goal. If it’s for hosting a TV talk show, he’s OK with that. If it’s for restoring world peace, he’s OK with that. If it’s for stealing an African baby, he’s OK with that. And if it’s for making a sex tape with politician Ron Paul, he’s especially OK with that.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m sincerely begging you not to look for it.
When Brüno decides that the only way he can become world-famous is to “go straight,” he deceitfully seeks out the advice of Jody Trautwein, a pastor in Birmingham, Ala. Trautwein’s there to be mocked, of course, but while keeping his cool and his dignity, he manages to convey a significant spiritual message: That Jesus Christ loves Brüno and is the only one who has the power to help him leave behind his homosexual lifestyle. Jesus will never leave you or forsake you, he tells Brüno.
Brüno solicits the help of a medium to supposedly contact the spirit of deceased Milli Vanilli singer Rob Pilatus. The spiritist claims to be talking to Pilatus, and he pretends to serve, for a while, as a go-between for Brüno.
While opportunistically “trying” to get Jews and Muslims to “get along,” Brüno tells them, “Don’t kill each other, kill a Christian.” Brüno crows, “I am the Austrian Jesus.”
There’s an editor’s note at the top of this review warning that it deals with graphic sexual content. I’ll reiterate that warning here. Brüno arguably goes farther, sexually, than any other film Plugged In Online has reviewed to date.
Scenes had to be trimmed from Brüno for the MPAA to rethink its original NC-17 determination. But while an R was eventually granted, it wasn’t trimmed enough. Not by a long shot. That’s probably because had it been edited enough, it would have ended up with a running time of about seven minutes. Perverse sexuality isn’t just prevalent here, it’s all that’s here.
At what’s called a swinger’s party, nude couples and groups of people appear onscreen engaged in various sex acts. A woman disrobes to entice Brüno, pulling off his clothes and whipping him with a belt to try to force him to have sex with her. In this sequence, digitally added black bars are all that obscure, to put it delicately, direct bodily contact. Not obscured in any way are sexual movements, sounds and positions.
While clothed, Brüno convinces one of the men at the “party” to act out multiple sexual positions with him. In a separate scene, Brüno pantomimes—in its entirety—a homosexual encounter. He includes in his repertoire explicit “renderings” of oral sex, anal sex, manual stimulation and orgasm.
Several times, full-frontal male nudity gets front-and-center treatment. Brüno is seen nude in more than one scene. Onscreen, he abuses a handheld vacuum. And in a video he makes, he focuses the camera on his penis as he does “tricks” with it, making it “dance” and “talk.” Suffice it to say, his groin area gets significant screen time with no shadowing, no obstructions and no shame. Brüno convinces a guy on the street to show off his pubic hair.
Homoerotic themes run through nearly everything. They include bondage gear and the extensive use of dildos as both props and sexual implements. Again, black bars barely obscure what is—or is meant to simulate—sodomy with various household objects. It’s implied that Brüno and his “assistant,” Lutz, also abuse (and sometimes kill) mice and hamsters to satisfy their own sexual appetites.
Brüno solicits sex, once while nude, from guys he’s camping with. He and Lutz lock themselves together in a sexual position with handcuffs, leather, chains, etc. (Nearly nude, and so bound together, they make their way outside and board a bus before they’re removed by police and forced to cover up.) In the middle of a mixed martial arts cage, in front of the requisitely amped-up crowd, Brüno and Lutz strip each other down to their underwear, kiss and grapple sexually.
Pretending to be “straight,” Brüno forcibly rips dresses off two girls in the MMA cage, revealing their bikinis underneath.
Brüno and Lutz (whose mouth begins to bleed) hit at each other for a while in the MMA cage before turning themselves into a sexual exhibition. Once they do that, the audience starts throwing bottles and chairs at the cage. An angry—duped—hunter in Alabama smacks a cameraman.
Close to 30 f-words, many of them used sexually. Ten or so s-words. Crude, vulgar and obscene words—in English, German and just plain made up—are repeatedly used to describe sexual acts, sexual body parts and anatomical functions. God’s name is mashed up with “d–n.” Jesus’ name is interjected as an oath.
Champagne shows up several times (once in a directly sexual context). Folks drink beer and other forms of alcohol in hot tubs and at the cage fight. Cigarettes and a hookah are smoked. Brüno remarks that he’ll have to resort to other peacemaking methods in the Middle East since he doesn’t have “enough Ecstasy for everyone.”
The camera follows Brüno and watches intently as he gets “anal waxing” and “bleaching” done at a Los Angeles salon.
In one of his talk show segments, Brüno chats about celebrity pregnancies, offering verdicts on whether the women should “keep” or “abort” their babies. When he auditions young children for a movie he says he wants to make, Brüno asks supposedly unsuspecting parents questions about what they would be OK with in order for their child to become a star. Included are queries about an infant losing weight via liposuction, being exposed to poisonous chemicals and/or dangerous machinery, being tied to a cross, etc. All of the responses are in the affirmative. The mom whose child is chosen is told that the role involves playing a Nazi soldier pushing a Jew into an oven.
Brüno tells a talk show crowd that he traded an iPod for a baby in Africa. Obviously doctored pictures of the child shown to the audience include one of him being attacked by bees. Another shows him hanging from a cross. With the child present, nude men appear to perform oral sex acts in a hot tub. And the baby is pulled out of a cardboard box that’s ostensibly been shipped from African in the luggage compartment of a commercial airliner.
Brüno tricks Texas congressman Ron Paul into agreeing to an interview, then pulls his own pants down to try to “seduce” the politician. (Paul abruptly vacates the room, exclaiming, “He’s queerer than the blazes.”)
Jokes are traded about everything and everyone from AIDS to autism to Hitler. Mexicans take the brunt of the racial abuse, though. Most drastically, they’re used for furniture.
Brüno’s “nutritionist” has him purging to lose weight. (We see him throw up.) Later, Brüno commits what he calls “carbicide,” eating mountains of cake and ice cream in a fit of despair.
Cameos are made by, among others, U2’s Bono, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Sting. Their appearance doesn’t sully the film, but since they weren’t coerced or ambushed, it certainly says something about them that they were willing to appear in it.
For her part, Paula Abdul says she wanted nothing to do with Brüno. After being invited to talk to Brüno on his new show, she’s instructed to sit on the back of a Mexican gardener and eat food served on the almost entirely nude body of a morbidly obese man. “This is crazy,” she reportedly said on the syndicated Johnjay and Rich radio show sometime later. “This is not funny, this is discrimination. This is abusive stuff going on here.”
The whole point of Sacha Baron Cohen’s existence seems to revolve around waylaying celebrities and ordinary people alike, then bullying them into saying or doing something really, really dumb or sleazy. And for that gimmick, foul though it may be, to work properly, viewers have to be able to tell the difference between the people who are in on the joke and the people who aren’t. That was relatively clear in Borat. But in Brüno, you’re often not sure who’s a plant and who’s getting duped. Is the terrorist Brüno interviews actually a highly deadly terrorist, for instance? Or is he just a wannabe? Or even an actor? Never mind that Cohen insisted to David Letterman that the man was indeed a major Middle Eastern terrorist, you can’t tell from the footage that makes it onscreen.
And so you end up mentally concluding that pretty much everyone—except for that pastor guy in Alabama and Ron Paul, of course—must be part of the plot.
It’s like the supposedly bushwhacked Richard Bey said after Brüno appeared on his fabricated TV show, “There are people who asked me if I was duped into it, and I generally respond with, ‘I’m a member of the Screen Actors Guild and get paid through residuals.'” The New York Post‘s Reed Tucker clarified, “In other words, he was in on it, but the reactions of his audience were real.”
That turns shtick into (what should have been) NC-17 schlock. And it makes Brüno no more inventive or cutting edge than a Saturday Night Live skit that got banned by the network censors for being too raunchy—way too raunchy.
What about that pastor in Alabama, though? What does Jody Trautwein, a youth pastor at Point of Grace Ministries church in Birmingham, Ala., think about getting punk’d by Brüno? When the New York Post asked him that very question, he responded, “Having counseled those that have been in the homosexual lifestyle and understanding the perversion and deception that accompany that lifestyle, I did not think him that unusual. I had encountered those things before.” He continued, “No one likes to be deceived. But the bottom line was, whether it was Brüno or the man I now know as Sacha Baron Cohen, I knew that the truth of God’s word was going straight into his heart.”
More to the point of this review, Trautwein told The Birmingham News that even though he unwittingly became a part of the film, he’s not interested in seeing it. “There can be very blasphemous things in there,” he said. “I have no desire to see the movie in its entirety. I have no desire to expose my heart and mind to what’s in there. It’s an example of the deception and perversion that is trying to enter our world through the entertainment industry. The holy and precious things of God are not to be touched and not to be mocked. I pray God has mercy on Sacha Baron Cohen.”
Well said, Pastor Trautwein. Well said.