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Bruno worth knowing ... to a point



To paraphrase Sen. Lloyd Bentsen's smackdown of Sen. Dan Quayle during the 1988 Vice Presidential Debate: "Bruno, I screened Borat; I knew Borat; Borat was a review of mine. Bruno, you're no Borat."

Perhaps not, but there's still plenty of laughs to be found in Bruno, which finds creator Sacha Baron Cohen employing the same guerilla tactics and faux-documentary style that made Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan such an unlikely box office winner back in 2006. This time, the uncompromising comedian adopts the personage of Bruno, a gay Austrian model who, after his career flames out in his homeland, comes to America -- specifically, Hollywood -- to reinvent himself as an A-list celebrity. That's easier said than done, as Bruno's flamboyance repels practically everyone he meets.

It's rather disingenuous the manner in which Cohen has suggested that Bruno is an attack on homophobia, since the end result strongly suggests that the filmmaker is having his cake (or cock, as Bruno would doubtless mispronounce the word) and eating it, too. The first half of the picture provides some hysterical material, but what's the target being punctured? Bruno's antics would seem outrageous to folks even if they were coming from a straight man, so, for example, you can't really fault the talk-show audience who finds his (fictionalized) treatment of his adopted baby reprehensible. Cohen is at his best when nailing specific people (such as the parents who will allow their kids to do anything, including operating heavy machinery or dressing in Nazi garb, if it means the lil' tykes will land that acting gig), but he's less successful when trying to shock viewers with naughty gay routines that encourage the audience to laugh at him rather than with him.

Fortunately, the picture hits its stride in the second half, when Cohen exclusively sets his sights on various bigots. This is what we've been primed to see, and the actor doesn't disappoint as he places his character in situations (some genuinely scary) with monosyllabic Alabama hunters, extreme-sports-loving rednecks, and, most reprehensible of all, two Christian counselors who bill themselves as "gay converters" (these vile creatures prove to be as misogynistic as they are homophobic). These scenes provide the film with the clarity of mission lacking in the earlier segments, as Cohen expertly alternates between subtly mocking his subjects and outright infuriating them. But never enlightening them, sorry to say -- that's probably too much to ask from any major-studio summer outing.

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