Watching Sacha Baron Cohen's outlandish antics in Brüno with a mixture of amusement, wince-making embarrassment and boredom, I kept wondering what was real and what was staged.
The producers claim much of what we see is authentic, a series of genuinely impromptu reactions to the gay Austrian character's provocations and deceit. And we don't get to see the death threats, a loaded gun being aimed at a crew member by one of the Alabama rednecks, or the guy who climbed into an ultimate fighting cage in Arkansas and challenged Baron Cohen to a fight.
It is sad, almost frightening, to learn that the Californian parents of aspiring child actors who told Brüno they were prepared to let their young charges do almost anything— work with pyrotechnics, dress as Nazis, be strapped to a cross--to get parts in a supposed film, didn't realize they were being punked. “The team was so unnerved by the parents' bizarre reactions to increasingly shocking scenarios that they made sure the eager parents didn't follow through,” the producers admitted.
It is difficult to believe the filmmakers' claims that Congressman and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul wasn't in on the joke when Brüno propositioned him—especially as they had to contend with Paul's small army of handlers plus US Capitol police and Secret Service.
You do have to admire Baron Cohen's courage in confronting the head of the Bethlehem unit of terrorist group al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a sect that's notorious for carrying out suicide bombings, and asking highly offensive questions. Dressed in skin-tight shorts and a bonnet, he really did have to run for his life when pursued by an angry crowd in an Hasidic neighbourhood in Israel.
In one of the film's funniest scenes, he appears on the Richard Bey talk show in Dallas carrying a black boy whom he claims to have adopted in Africa, enraging the mostly black audience, who didn't know it was a stunt.
Amazingly, he managed to infiltrate the US Army National Guard headquarters in Anniston, Alabama, by posing as an on-air personality who wanted to do a story on what it's like to live and work as a candidate in officer training school. The recruits recognized him from Borat but they aren't allowed to speak freely without the approval of their commanding officer, so the ruse worked.
There was nothing contrived about the crowd's hostility at an ultimate fighting event in Fort Smith, Arkansas, when Brüno and his loyal assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) start taking their clothes off and kissing. Someone threw a chair at Baron Cohen's head, there was a near riot, and 40 cops had to rescue the cast and crew when their bus was besieged.
One of the four hunters in Alabama who agreed to take Baron Cohen and the crew along for a night shoot really did get agitated when he twigged that Brüno was gay and decided he'd had enough.
But I do wonder about the producers' boasts that celebrities Paula Abdul, La Toya Jackson (whose segment was cut after her brother Michael died) and Brittny Gastineau didn't react when asked to sit on four Latino “gardeners” (actually stuntmen/actors) in lieu of furniture. Director Larry Charles insists it's human nature to want to have “our egos fed” and we'll forgive small transgressions in the process.
Are some celebrities that unfeeling and shallow?