When Sacha Baron Cohen unveiled the exuberant, flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion journalist Bruno during his HBO program Da Ali G Show a few years ago, there was some mild controversy, but it didn’t generate much momentum because the show never produced big ratings.
But thanks to an impressive publicity blitz featuring wild, hysterical antics, Bruno should merit an impressive turnout at the box office this weekend.
Before deciding on the best release date for Bruno, director Larry Charles and Universal did some frantic last-minute editing to change the commercially toxic NC-17 rating the first version earned from the M.P.A.A. to the more appealing R it has received.
A fake title, Bruno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt, triggered a brief Internet firestorm until the studio quelled the disturbance by saying that this had been suggested by The Defamer, and wasn’t actually what they were calling the film.
As with Cohen’s last production Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, he’s playing with PR fire by satirizing cultural stereotypes and putting his character into absurd situations. The film should deliver the kinds of catchphrases and comic responses that can be enlightening and funny, or offensive and incendiary (and in some cases all these things at once).
Since the movie has scenes with real people instead of paid actors, this film (like Borat) has been raking in controversy. The character Bruno managed to temporarily hit the catwalk during a Milan fashion show before being escorted out by security, and there was even a reported riot during the filming of a skit in Arkansas. Richelle Olson filed a lawsuit claiming that an incident filmed at a charity bingo tournament left her disabled.
After the death of Michael Jackson, a scene featuring Bruno and LaToya Jackson that had already been leaked onto YouTube was pulled from the movie. Cohen also enlisted such heavyweights among Hollywood’s gay community as MTV president of entertainment Brian Graden, and actors Jack Plotnick and Peter Paige to serve as consultants.
Still, when two of your major plot devices include interviews with a former Presidential candidate as well as a former Mossad agent and a Palestinian about the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, it’s pretty certain you’ll get some interesting responses.
Cohen has already warmed audiences up for the film by appearing as Bruno for the 2009 MTV Awards and getting involved in a situation with Eminem that had some observers insisting the rapper was truly angry and ready to physically confront Cohen.
Later, Eminem and everyone involved acknowledged this was staged, but it generated ample attention and pre-release publicity. Likewise, Cohen has received both praise and scorn for doing a lap dance on The Tonight Show for Conan O’Brien and dropping his pants.
So, those who enjoyed the bizarre dialog and unpredictable situations in Borat will no doubt flock to Bruno. The real test comes in how many others Cohen’s antics can attract.
Directed by: Larry Charles
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Yossi Alpher, Neal Barton, Danny Elzner with cameos by Paula Abdul, Harrison Ford, Ron Paul and others
Time: 83 minutes