First, let me say that I would have much preferred to base my first formal film review since taking office on the new Harry Potter movie, but we promised to take the girls to see it on the day it opened (yes, we could have pulled strings and gotten an advance print, but I was afraid I'd accidentally spill the beans and ruin it for Gibbs). As a former Defense Secretary might have said, you review the movie you have, not the one you wished you had. Alas.
I approached Bruno with some trepidation, first because I saw Borat at a private screening several years ago with several aides and knew what was in store. I will admit that, with all due respect to the people of Kazakhstan and its President, I never laughed so hard in my life - with the exception of the time during the transition when Rahm gave a Cheney aide what little remains of his middle finger. But as President, the last thing you want is to find yourself in a receiving line with the President of Kazakhstan - or a President of a former Soviet republic that reminds you of Kazakhstan -- and you can't help picturing him naked and sweaty, or chasing Jews down a well, or having relations with his twin sister, the one with the beard and uni-brow. Highly disconcerting and an international - well, Central Asian or Kazakhstani-- incident waiting to happen.
I was also concerned as of late I've taken some hits from the gay community on several issues that dare not speak their name. The very fact that I'm reviewing Bruno might only inflame sensitivities. So with these caveats in mind, let's wade right in...
Like many other reviewers, I'll confess there were stretches that made me intensely uncomfortable. Latent homophobia? Per Ax in one of his Talmudic moments, who's to say? But on the discomfort scale, 10 watching the Vice President go-off script on a Sunday talk show, 5 having an informal bite with Hillary, and 1 getting a foot massage on Air Force One as we fly into the sunset, I'd give it a 7 -- the rough equivalent of catching Sarkozy eyeballing the passing caboose of a girl too young even for Berlusconi.
Overall I would have to say that what Bruno lacked in novelty or even shock value, particularly coming after the sensory assault that was Borat, it made up in costume design and male frontal nudity. While the bit with the talking penis went on far longer than I would have hoped, the point was well taken as who among us has not been on the receiving end of such an appendage, metaphorically speaking? In politics it's what we refer to as the cost of doing business.
I was particularly taken with the scene where Bruno has Paula Abdul to his unfurnished home. Improvising, the ever-accomodating Bruno pays several Mexicans to stand-in as furniture; without missing a beat, Ms. Abdul elegantly parks herself on the back of a Mexican posing as an easy chair - a piece of furniture one won't find in any Ikea catalog. Was it offensive? Possibly. But if it was, it was also an inspired piece of social satire...eat your heart out, Carlos Mencia.
There were many similarly outrageous scenes, too many to mention - and I hope I'm not offending the Governor of California when I say that I found the gay/Austrian Schwarznegger cracks most amusing - given the state's financial woes one hopes California residents find it a welcome diversion.
One thing I'll have to confess: when I hear anything like the German language the first thing that comes to mind is the martial pounding of polished boots. For some reason that wasn't the case here, as Sacha Baron Cohen has invented a patois and a persona that puts one in mind of the old TV show Hogan's Heroes, if you can imagine one of Colonel Klink's lieutenants as a gay diva with sequined epaulets and a hair-trigger on his riding crop.
Bruno isn't for all tastes and there are scenes that will make you squirm - or worse. But it will challenge you, and it will make it hard to stifle guffaws when you must drop everything to take a late night call from an agitated head of state. At a minimum you will find it fascinating. Me? I thought it was mostly fabulous!