BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
I had one of my most memorable cinematic experiences in the early nineties while living in San Francisco. Some local TV obsessive had spent years videotaping his channel surfing, which he then boiled down to a 90-minute program on the grotesque extremes of the American id. He had weeping TV preachers, cackling midget wrestlers, drunken talk show guests and just when you thought you’d seen it all he would cut in some gratuitous footage of a horse mounting some brave and foolish young woman. Whenever the woman and her equestrian lover popped on screen the crowd would let out an inadvertent howl like electricity was surging through their seats. After the show was over the crowd roared and we all exited like we had survived something both elating and traumatic.
I’m not sure it matches the giddy memories of that night but it’s in a similar manner that Sasha Baron Cohen thrills in the new mockumentary Brüno, a film so similar in design to 2006’s Borat that it can only be called a sequel. Like most sequels, the sense of surprise is a tad on the wane; still the film is loaded with laughs and audacity and perhaps a sharpened edge, its flirty gay come-ons more threatening than Borat’s American-loving enthusiasm.
You know it is Brüno’s world once you spot the umlaut over the “U” in the Universal Pictures logo. Like Borat, it is the slimmest of fictional plots that holds together a series of gags that are hatched on a well-selected series of unsuspecting targets. Brüno, a fabulously gay fashion maven (who suspiciously gives his age as “nineteen”) has burned his bridges in the Austrian fashion industry and sets out to make it big in Hollywood, followed by his adoring assistant, Lutz (played by Gustaf Hammarsten, who is considerably less amusing than Borat’s rotund sidekick Ken Davitian). The writers have knocked their heads together to figure where a flamboyantly gay man would be least welcome, coming up with some obvious choices (military basic training, a Southerner’s hunting trip) as well as some crazy ones (a Hasidic neighborhood in Israel and a terrorist hideout).
The set-ups come so quick and are so varied that everyone who goes along for the ride is going to find their personal favorites. I was less amused by the bits that involved Brüno’s aggressive flirtations; former Presidential candidate Ron Paul is nearly hysterical after Brüno tries to lure him into sex in a hotel room but in truth you don’t have to be homophobic to be freaked out by someone dropping their pants and demanding to hug you while the cameras are rolling. Funnier were the people who stumble into the Austrian model’s super-sexy world, like the bellboy who is sent to Brüno’s hotel room to find the handcuff keys to unlock the nearly naked Brüno from his sex partner.
Director Larry Charles, whose ability to give structure to rambling improvisation has brought focus to everything from Bill Mahrer’s Religulous to his underrated Dylan collaboration Masked and Anonymous, hits all his targets in eighty-three minutes, getting in and out before the laughs grow stale. The preview audience was definitely ready to laugh but the feeling I received from the crowd was that it was harder to laugh at a sexually aroused muscular gay man than Borat‘s goofy and naive foreigner. A montage of sexual hi-jinks between Brüno and his dwarfish boy toy Diesel (probably the most explicit sex scene in a mainstream U.S. film since the acrobatic puppet fornicators in Team America) made some laugh but many released a pained groan, such was the discomfort at sitting knee to knee with strangers while watching two man hump like extremely clever little bunnies. Then again the best summer blockbusters show us something we’ve never seen before, so years from now when you’re watching some penis-centric hit at your local multiplex, remember it was Brüno who made America safe for well-hung fellows to bounce their members rhythmically on their bellies at your neighborhood movie screen. You can decide then if you wish to thank him.
Gotta admit, i’m kinda excited Exhumed Films is showing this transcendent piece of junk Italian cinema (also known as INVASION OF THE FLESH EATERS) tonight (at 8pm!) at Philadelphia’s International House. Shot in and around Atlanta, John Saxon (NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST.,ENTER THE DRAGON) is one of a trio of Vietnam vets who slowly become rabid cannibals after being bitten by a Vietnamese woman during a village massacre. Just enough social commentary to forgive yourself the thrill of watching wonderfully fake-y effects pulled off by the on-the-run Italian film crew. Truly jaw-slackening, you’ll walk out knowing you’ve seen something. Also on the bill some nice tamer Italian fare, 1965’s TERROR-CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE featuring Italian horror “IT” girl Barbera Steele. Tonight at International House. — DB