Review: Bruno

Like many other dangerous and controversial comedians (Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Howard Stern), the role-playing guerrilla satirist Sacha Baron Cohen knows how to draw an audience into a conspiratorial relationship with him - and then make you squirm anyway. Bruno, his new quasi-documentary stunt comedy, is, if anything, a crazier, funnier, and even pricklier pincushion of a movie than Borat, his 2006 tweak of all things dumb, bigoted, and American. Teaming up again with director Larry Charles, Baron Cohen once more wanders the U.S. landscape in the put-on guise of an egomaniacally doltish yet weirdly resonant pest. This time he's Bruno, a cretinous and very, very gay Austrian fashion-celebrity-fame whore in skintight hot pants and a frosted mop of Eurotrash hair that spills over his forehead like the tail of a dead squirrel.

Bruno, who refers to himself in the third person, has an imperious, nostril-flaring air; he's the fashionista as commandant. After he gets kicked off of Funkyzeit, the discofied TV bash he hosts in Austria, he says that Bruno was blacklisted, substituting a Teutonic racial slur for black. Bruno, let's be clear, is not a film that behaves itself, even for an enlightened audience. You can't squeeze it into a tidy liberal box, because it's only too happy to flirt with the taboos and frat-house intolerances it's ridiculing.

As Bruno travels across America and, at moments, visits other parts of the world, he has one compulsion - to become famous - and he'll achieve it in any way possible. He starts off by trying to meet celebrities, with little success (he gets a F--- off! from Harrison Ford). On a Dallas talk show, he parades his adopted black baby, which nearly touches off a - riot. The scene is a vicious skewer of stars who turn adopted kids into accessories, yet the real joke is that it doesn't take long for a talk show devoted to compassion to tease out the pitchfork-mob rage of the studio audience. For a while, Bruno, taking a cue from Hollywood, pretends to be straight. He goes to a party for swingers, in a scene so bizarre you'll think, It can't be fake. He also attends a gay deprogramming session with an evangelical therapist who looks, let's just say, a little bit less than qualified.

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