At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of Universal

4 out of 5 stars

It’s inevitable that Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film “Brüno” will be compared to his 2006 hit “Borat.” After all, both document the adventures of a foreign individual with uncontrollable political incorrectness. In “Brüno,” the title character travels across America, unleashing his personal brand of humor upon unsuspecting (and more often than not, southern) citizens. While “Borat” was an attempt to poke fun at our country’s growing xenophobia, “Brüno” takes aim at the homophobia that still runs rampant.

The genius of “Borat,” was the use of both outrageousness and subtlety — how American customs were both mocked and revered at the same time. Do not expect to find any of this subtlety with “Brüno.” To say that the movie is in your face is an understatement. (Warning: Those uncomfortable with numerous shots of male genitalia need not rush out to the multiplexes.)

The shred of a plot — really more of an excuse for Cohen to up the ante scene after scene — involves Brüno’s desire to become a famous American celebrity.

The most humorous aspect of the plot comes when Brüno adopts an African baby in the name of Brangelina. Brüno then brings the baby (with a “traditional African name, OJ”) onto a Dallas talk show and the scene spirals out of control. It goes from scandalously comical to downright jaw-dropping, much like the film as a whole.

If you can handle it, though, “Brüno” is funny — hilarious, in fact. Cohen’s greatest strength is that the man has literally no fear.

In one great test of bravado, Cohen interviews the head of an actual terrorist organization, going so far as to tell him that his “King Osama” looks like a “dirty wizard.” As we gasp and squirm, Cohen looks on quite steadfastly, completely dedicated to getting laughs. This dedication works more often than not.

Cohen’s other gift lies in his interviewing skills, and he always finds a way to coax stupid answers out of his blindsided victims. He even manages to get Paula Abdul talking about her love of her fellow human beings as she sits on the back of a Mexican landscaper.

The movie certainly has enough crude material to offend most people. The issue of sexuality is a touchy one, and it doesn’t help that Cohen pushes it to the limit any chance he gets. Some might say that “Brüno” is far too raunchy to be regarded as anything other than utterly disgusting. They might be right, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining, even if some may be too busy cringing to notice.

The only true sourness comes from the shocking finale in which Brüno (disguised as a wrestler named “Straight Dave”) begins to passionately kiss his assistant in the ring during a local fight night. The only thing is, this was filmed in front of a real audience who had no idea what was about to transpire. What happens next gets pretty ugly, with the audience chanting slurs and throwing chairs. It’s meant to be comical, which it is. But it’s also incredibly unsettling, which presumably is Cohen’s point.

“Brüno” depicts various forms of homophobia projected toward Cohen, but during this scene, it becomes impossible not to question ourselves. Are we also in the wrong for laughing at this flamboyant character? What separates us, the viewer, from those hate-filled people on the screen? Is laughing at Brüno wrong? Do our laughs say something about our own homophobia? It’s uncomfortable questions like these that separate Cohen from other comedians. Love him or hate him, it’s not often that a movie will make you laugh and think about why you’re laughing at the same time.

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