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Sacha Baron Cohen (the creator and star of Borat) returns to the big screen in the hilarious adventures of Austria's favorite fashionista, Bruno. In this gleefully anarchic mockumentary, the flamboyant television host loses his homeland talk show, "Funkyzeit," and does what any self-respecting wannabe would do -- he moves to Hollywood to pursue worldwide super-stardom. From worlds of fashion and entertainment to the military, Bruno puts his worst foot forward as Baron Cohen fearlessly tramples the boundaries of good taste in ways that confound celebrities and just plain folks alike.
For more about Brüno and the Brüno Blu-ray release, see Brüno Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on November 8, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Josh Meyers
Director: Larry Charles
» See full cast & crew
Brüno Blu-ray Review
Master of disguise Sacha Baron Cohen misses the mark...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 8, 2009
Despite our increasingly advanced technological wizardry and vast, ever-expanding scientific knowledge, mankind has utterly failed to quantify something as simple, as fundamental to the human experience as comedy. In fact, our every attempt to do so has been as humorous as the subjects we've studied. It seems unspooling humor is as futile a task as catching happiness in a firefly jar. Sure, scans have revealed the specific areas of the brain that react to certain stimuli, and extensive studies have documented the physical response we experience as a result -- a joyous little seizure we call laughter -- but science can't explain how or why chameleon Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno strikes some as hilarious, others as aimless drivel, and still others as terribly offensive. Is it Cohen's brazen antics? His disregard for established boundaries? His ability to overturn the darkest rocks in our collective consciousness? His drive to shock and challenge his audience? Whatever the cause, one thing remains clear: it's impossible to predict who will enjoy a film like Brüno. Fans of Borat may find it to be a lesser work undeserving of the attention it's received. Cohen critics may find themselves overwhelmed by uncontrollable laughter. Tolerant viewers may think the straight-faced comedian has finally gone too far. Me? Honestly, I still haven't decided how I feel about it all.
Slipping off Borat's dusty, oh-so-endearing shoes, Cohen submerses himself in the world and mannerisms of Brüno, a flamboyant Austrian fashion reporter who loses his job and his lover, Diesel (Clifford Bańagale), after disrupting a show at Milan Fashion Week. Before you can say thin setup, Brüno drags his assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) to America in hopes of becoming an international superstar. He tries to become an actor, interview celebrities, create a successful television pilot, make a steamy sex tape (to get exposure on the internet, of course), appear on a talk show, adopt an African baby and, eventually, forge peace in the Middle East. It goes without saying that his efforts go horribly awry; the real focus of Brüno is the reactions Cohen captures from his unwitting victims. Paula Abdul looks disgusted but obeys when Cohen instructs her to sit on a Mexican immigrant during an interview; congressman Ron Paul does his best to be polite, but reaches a breaking point that ends with him barking the word "queer" as if it were going out of style; a hateful crowd of wrestling fans have an absolute conniption when Cohen begins to kiss another man in the ring; mothers agree to put their children through the unthinkable just so their kids can score an acting job; a focus group is pushed to the edge and responds in a manner that's arguably as offensive as the footage they've been shown. Through it all, Cohen pushes, pulls, and shoves his subjects into uncomfortable corners, waiting patiently for their inevitable over-reactions.
Did I mention Brüno was gay? So unbelievably, ludicrously gay that Cohen inadvertently promotes the very prejudice he seeks to bring to light? Whereas Borat was a harmless, likable victim of the world around him, Brüno is a vile human being. Not because of his sexuality, mind you, but because his behavior is so self-centered, so mean-spirited, so disconnected from both liberal and conservative platforms that he genuinely is an offensive creature. Who wouldn't be appalled to see a man lift a baby from a piece of poorly bound luggage? Who wouldn't get upset if shown a television pilot involving such obviously outlandish material? Who wouldn't balk at his backstage shenanigans at an important industry event? Borat was a brilliant character; a wide-eyed, blank slate; a compassionate manchild who revealed the ugliness brewing inside ordinary Americans. Brüno is used to do much the same thing, but his actions are as upsetting as the reactions he elicits. He isn't a humble foreigner saying awkward things at dinner, lying on the ground outside of a mega-church, or catching his subjects unaware. He's an aggressive outlander determined to rile and ruffle anyone and everyone in his path. In Borat, I was stunned to see how people treated Cohen's character. In Brüno, I actually felt a bit of sympathy for some of them, a response Cohen would most certainly not want his audience to experience.
I respect what Cohen is attempting to do. Holding up a mirror with the intent of exposing hatred and bigotry is a noble pursuit, especially when it produces such admittedly gut-busting results. But Borat was a fascinating sociological experiment that captured unexpected reactions from an unwitting populous. Oh yeah, it was hilarious too. Brüno is simply a not-so-hidden-camera show in which a truly talented actor prioritizes his audience's laughter over the value and integrity of his sociological experiment. Frankly, it's a distinction that allows the film to fall flat far too often. Don't get me wrong, Brüno isn't a waste of time or celluloid. Its best sequences -- more reserved gags like the fashion reporter's Milan interviews, his child-actor casting sessions, encounters with American politicians, and other similar segments -- follow in the footsteps of Borat and, more importantly, succeed in earning laughs and making a worthwhile statement. Even scenes in which Cohen goes too far, engages in his most unruly antics, it's hard not to giggle incessantly at everything that unfolds. He has a gift to be sure; one that needs honed and refined, but a gift nonetheless. However, he needs to understand that the merits of his message can be overshadowed, even blotted out, if he doesn't exercise some manner of restraint. Borat was effortless and engaging; Brüno is exhausting and trying.
Brüno is a funny, funny film, but earning laughs can't be the sole measure of a great comedy. If it were as intelligent and thoughtful as Borat, I would be singing its praises and commending Cohen's command of human emotion. Sadly, it's too obvious and too hostile to be as smart and sharp as its filmmakers intended. I wanted to enjoy Brüno -- and many times I found myself doing just that -- but by the time the credits rolled, I felt as if Cohen had fumbled the opportunity to make his audience reflect on their own personal demons; a goal he clearly had in mind from the beginning. And you, dear readers? Some of you will declare it to be the funniest movie of... well, ever. Some of you will loathe every second of it. Some of you will squirm and fidget between bursts of laughter. But whatever your reaction, it will be your reaction. Perhaps that's the real genius of Cohen's film: you have to watch it before you can ever know how you'll feel about it.
Brüno Blu-ray, Video Quality
Brüno's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is difficult to evaluate. It strikes me as a technically proficient presentation that, for better or worse, captures the intended look of Cohen's faux-documentary, but it's also plagued by source anomalies that undermine the end result; anomalies I can only assume are products of Cohen's handheld footage rather than an uneven transfer. Brüno never looks better than it does in its opening minutes. Colors burst from every corner of the Milan Fashion Week stages, shadows are suitably deep, textures are crisp, and detail is commendable. But while Cohen continues to employ high definition cameras throughout the production, a lot of his footage is culled from on-the-go, lower quality devices. In these instances, fine detail is inconsistent, contrast vaults between overblown (during daytime exterior scenes) and murky (as it is when the actor retreats to dark hotel rooms and streetside locales), and various other issues -- as arguably minor as they may be in the grand scheme of things -- become distractions. Artifacting, crush, pulldown (as evidenced during the wrestling sequence), interline twitter, source noise, smearing, unresolved black levels, and ringing are all evident at one point or another, and rarely does five minutes go by without one or more disruptions making an appearance.
Still, when Brüno is viewed as a documentary, such oddities serve to enhance audience immersion and fulfill Cohen's intended illusion. As it stands, anyone approaching the Blu-ray edition with appropriate expectations will be satisfied with Universal's efforts.
Brüno Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I could essentially rehash everything I just wrote about Brüno's video transfer and apply it to Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Cohen doesn't often have the luxury of capturing the best sound during his various encounters and the studio's mix, while distinctly a lossless experience, is ultimately a tad underwhelming. Dialogue is generally crisp and well-prioritized, but often gets trampled in the inevitable chaos that erupts around Brüno. Likewise, LFE output is weighty and rear speaker activity involving, but only when the agile Austrian finds himself on the run with security officers, an angry dominatrix, or furious Middle Eastern mobs in hot pursuit. Moreover, directionality is imprecise, pans are rather stocky, and dynamics are decidedly hit or miss. With that in mind, I doubt Brüno could possibly sound much better. Its sonics, while strained, get the job done and its presentation, while unreliable, respectfully adheres to Cohen's faux-documentary style. Fans won't be disappointed.
Brüno Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Bruno struts onto Blu-ray with a fairly generous supplemental package; one that includes more than an hour of deleted and extended scenes, an enhanced Picture-in-Picture commentary, a few exclusives, and Universal's usual batch of BD-Live features. Presented entirely in high definition, it's arguably more satisfying than the film it accompanies.
Brüno Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Brüno is a bizarre blend of uncomfortable encounters, unsettling comedy, and disturbing reactions. While it's extremely funny at times, it lacks heart and vision; while I caught myself laughing far more often than I care to admit, I was left feeling empty and dissatisfied. Thankfully, Universal's Blu-ray release is a bit more fulfilling. It features a faithful video transfer, a decent DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a generous supplemental package that includes an enhanced Picture-in-Picture commentary worth the price of admission alone. Will Brüno appeal to everyone? Absolutely not. Is it worth watching? Definitely, if only to examine the brash hatred of the masses and the unkempt brilliance of a comedian pushing his subjects too far. Love it or hate it, you certainly won't be bored.
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