Listen, and there is no easy way of putting this, so I’ll just come straight out with it: I think the joke may be over. I say ‘may’ because Brüno is still very funny, for which we must be intensely grateful, but Brüno is no Borat. I am sorry to be the one to give you this news and take absolutely no pleasure in it beyond the big kick I always get when I imagine I might have taken the shine off someone’s day. In fact, if it weren’t for that, this would hurt me as much as it hurts you.
So, Brüno. Brüno is Sasha Baron Cohen’s gay, Austrian, spectacularly over-the-top fashionista character, and the film opens hilariously enough with Brüno wreaking havoc in an all-Velcro suit at a Milan fashion show. Aside from anything else, Baron Cohen is a sensational and fearless physical comedian, but from here on in the focus does get a little fuzzy. Determined to become a global star he attempts to achieve this by various means: interviewing celebrities for a Hollywood TV show; brokering peace in the Middle East; trying to become straight; buying an African baby. There is much that feels too contrived, but some moments are worth the cost of your ticket alone, like Paula Abdul explaining how much her charity work means to her while sitting on a Mexican gardener. Magnificent. I laughed like a drain and I say that even though I have no idea how drains do laugh.
The satire, when it works, works blissfully. How far will Hollywood stage mothers go to get their child on to a photo-shoot? ‘How is your baby around wasps, hornets and bees?’ asks Brüno when interviewing a mother. ‘She’s fine with that,’ replies the mother. But much of this comes at a price, and that price involves having to sit though a lot of...look, there is no easy way of putting this so I’ll just come straight out with it: bum action. There is bum action involving dildos and bum action involving champagne bottles. There is bum action galore. At the press screening, I overheard some male, presumably straight, critics saying they found it ‘disgusting’ and ‘it’s not what I want to see in the cinema’ but, no, this doesn’t mean they are homophobic because ‘gay people are just as repelled by straight sex’. I take their point, but the fact is gay people do have to watch straight sex in the cinema all the time. Is this Baron Cohen’s point? It’s hard to tell.
Brüno has been criticised as a stereotype, but I don’t know. You’d have to be a pretty grumpy gay not to laugh it off. Plus, this is extreme comedy and to provoke extreme reactions you do need an extreme character. If you disagree then I would like to ask you this: how would you get the multiplex crowd to sit through an 83-minute film on homophobia?
Anyway, enough of all that and on to the real question: is it funny enough? Well, when it’s funny, it is funny, but it is only intermittently funny. The bum action is too deliberately outrageous to be anything but rather boring. And Brüno, as a character, just isn’t nearly as endearing as Borat. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two, but how are we to help it? When Brüno and his lover, chained together for a bondage session, have to board a bus, isn’t that Borat and his producer running naked through the hotel all over again? And do we really need another film to tell us that American red-necks aren’t exactly libertarians?
What I’m saying, I think, is that the joke has worn thin. I am sorry to tell you this news but here is some better news: I’m away next week and someone is replacing me who is bound to be an improvement. Does this hurt me more than it hurts you? You bet.