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‘Brüno’ poised to shock and mock America

‘Brüno’

Rated R

Grade: C-

Opens July 10

Excruciating. Embarrassing. Offensive. Shocking. Raunchy. Sometimes hysterical. Consider these words of warning. Or, if you’re the type, the highest recommendation. Either way, there is little middle ground when considering “Brüno,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s much dreaded/anticipated (again, depending on your tastes) follow-up to his 2006 hit “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

For those of you who didn’t catch Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show” on HBO a few years back, Brüno is another of his brazenly clueless characters who puts real people in painfully awkward situations –- and catches it all on camera for our enjoyment or, for some, horror. He is a fashion reporter from Austria who heads to America to repair his ruined reputation and transform himself into a certified celebrity.

Oh, and Brüno’s gay. Not that you could ever, ever forget that fact for one second since he is almost continuously soliciting gay sex, simulating gay sex or simply having gay sex. Yes, sometimes it’s funny simply for its blatantly over-the-top nature, but for the most part it gets old and unfunny pretty quickly. And throwing in some far too lengthy and graphic straight sex scenes took it from outrageous to just plain sleazy.

If you enjoyed “Borat” (and I did), you won’t find the same kind of lovable innocence in the Brüno character. This makes him difficult to tolerate as he goes from scene to scene, instigating conflict. And it seems like Cohen’s gag of luring innocent (if not stupid) people into his trap is running out of steam. Perhaps we’ve become so saturated with reality TV and media that the mainstream public is catching on and putting up with it less and less. This is most apparent when Brüno manages to snag an interview with unsuspecting politician Ron Paul. When Brüno makes the inevitable pass at him, Paul storms out, clearly frustrated that his time had been wasted. And the lack of laughter in the packed theater made it clear that the gag wasn’t worth the audience’s time either.

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But Cohen does pull off some stunts that not only make you laugh out of pure shock, but also point out the hypocrisy of many aspects of American culture. If you’ve seen Cohen’s other work you know what that means -– visits to the Southern U.S. and into the unwelcoming arms of conservative Christians, rednecks and the military. Pepper that with a few effective jabs at our celebrity and fame obsessed society and you’ve got a few moments of hearty laughter.

Cohen’s biggest feat in this film (besides never once breaking character, even when he seems clearly in danger or, at the very least, should be bursting out laughing) was simply the fact that he pulled it off at all. Or did he? This is the inner dialogue that kept bouncing around my head as I watched the film, wondering if all of this was real. Which characters were in on the joke? Which weren’t? How did they explain the presence of a camera crew? How did they convince supposedly media savvy public figures like Paula Abdul and Ron Paul to walk right into Cohen’s grasp?

No matter what you may think of Brüno or Borat, Cohen is an admirable figure in comedy today, constantly pushing boundaries of filmmaking, humor and, yes, taste. But he’s out there doing something that is entirely his, which says a lot when you consider the cineplexes are loaded with bad remakes of 1970s TV shows and second-rate sequels.

Cohen’s number may be up for this style of ambush comedy, but he’s shown true talent as a comic actor in films like “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” His future in Hollywood will likely not be tainted by whatever fallout may await him after Brüno’s release.

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If you do decide to see this film -– even with my words of warning -– you may very well be asking yourself the same question. Or you may be laughing so hard you forget to think at all. Chances are, you already know by now which category you fall into.