Sacha Baron Cohen is back, and once again he has created an outrageously offensive character from another country who crosses the ocean to interact with unsuspecting Americans so that we can laugh at their reactions, which range from befuddlement to extreme discomfort to outrage. But this time his scope is narrower, his character is shallower, and his meanderings are more random. His shtick is getting tired.
This time he plays Bruno, a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista who decides to come to America to seek fame, and his two themes are homophobia and the obsession with celebrity. But the homophobia is not as virulent as the worst revelations of “Borat.” When he goes camping with some good old boys, they roll their eyes and resist his efforts to bait them — until he takes off all his clothes and tries to crawl into one’s sleeping bag. The preachers who talk with him about gay conversion do their best to be sincerely patient with his questions. Even the boot camp sergeants barking at him to make his bed and drop and give them twenty handle his insubordination — and his designer additions to the overly “matchy-matchy” uniforms — with reasonably good humor. It’s a long way from “Full Metal Jacket.” The scariest people he encounters are the stage mothers who want him to pick their babies for a photo shoot. As he asks them increasingly appalling questions (“Could your baby lose some weight?” “Are you okay with the baby riding without a car seat?” “Being covered with bees?” “Being crucified?”), they all look him in the eye and assure him that would be just fine.
Baron Cohen wants to provoke. The movie opens with an extended sequence of very explicit, highly athletic, extremely creative, but logistically improbable sex acts between Bruno and his “pygmy flight attendant” boyfriend. But he stops short, oddly cautious for once, and avoids confrontation with the virulent anti-gay forces of Fred Phelps. When he goes to the Mideast and sits down with representatives of Israel and the Palestinians, he sticks with silliness like pretending to confuse hummus with Hamas. Baron Cohen is in trouble if his outrageousness is dwarfed by Jimmy Kimmel (the capper here does not come close to the Ben Affleck song) and by real life (the take on obsession with celebrity does not come close to Michael Jackson’s memorial). This is less what we expect from Baron Cohen that what we expect from Alan Funt or Ashton Kutcher.
Parents should know that this film has NC-17-level extremely crude, vulgar, intentionally offensive and graphic material throughout with very explicit sexual references and situations and male and female nudity, very strong and crude language, drinking, drug reference, and comic violence.
Family discussion: Is it fair for Sacha Baron Cohen to film people without telling them what is going on? How would you respond? Where is the line between what is funny and what is offensive?
If you like this, try: “Borat” and Cohen’s television series