It's an old show-biz truism: What's wildly entertaining the first time you see it is -- meh -- not so much the second time. In Brüno, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles head for the same rigged-reality well that produced their 2006 hit Borat. But this time, they don't drop the bucket in very deep.
Brüno, another of Cohen's fancy-dressed, funny-accented characters spawned from TV's Da Ali G Show, is a way-gay Austrian fashionista. After failing in Vienna, he heads to America to make it big. Or as Brüno blithely puts it, "to become the most famous Austrian since Hitler" and "the biggest gay Hollywood star since Arnold Schwarzenegger." This is the loose set-up for Brüno's two sets of escapades: trying to become famous; and later, trying to turn straight.
Part of Borat's success depended on the logic of its premise: foreign journalist tours U.S.A. But I didn't find any of the cartoonish and one-dimensional Brüno's encounters with real (or "real") people convincing. Like watching the lady get sawed in half again, I frequently lost the spell of the movie because I was distracted by the rigging. (Brüno storms a Richard Bey talk show? Bey's been off the air for more than a decade.)
On the upside, Brüno's outfits are fantastic: The costume designer must have had a blast. (Ironically, the film's big fashion gag -- in which Brüno attends a runway show wearing a Velcro suit -- falls flat. It's like filler from the wee hours of SNL.) And Cohen is an impressively fearless performer. His air-blowjob is like no mime act you've ever seen, and he's unafraid to strut through the Holy Land wearing rabbinical hot pants.
Yet Cohen doesn't seem as committed to this shtick any more. His accent falters; the humor is more often conveyed through props than acting; and I couldn't decide if that glazed-over look is the vapid Brüno, or Cohen wishing he could just do something else already.
Too much of Brüno simply seems lazy. A joke riffing on how Israelis and Arabs can at least agree on hummus was probably first told by Moses. And talk about easy targets: fashion, straights unnerved by flamers, the shallow pursuit of fame, and setting too many scenes in Hollywood's favorite place for cheap laughs -- Hillbillyandia.
Your mileage may vary on how hilarious or offensive Brüno's running homophobia meta-text is. I love button-pushing humor and have a high tolerance for the vulgar, but I just found most of Brüno's jokes to be too obvious to be revelatory, and too dumb to be funny.
On the other hand, if your day isn't complete with a couple dozen outrageous dick and anal-sex jokes, this could be your summer fave. The 18-to-25-year males that shared the theater with me didn't laugh a lot, but they were slayed by the talking penis. In English, and some German, with subtitles.