Is Sacha Baron Cohen the New John Waters?

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Amid all the news of Michael Jackson’s death last week came word that a scene mentioning the former King of Pop was removed from Sacha Baron Cohen’s upcoming comedy, Bruno. BBC News got out the first review of the film (which opens in the US on July 10th) saying that, “There are some very funny moments, including a brilliant scene where, while trying to bring about peace in the Middle East, two rival camps have to explain to Bruno that Hamas and hummus are not the same thing — but both agree at the same time that hummus is a good thing.”

There seems to be some confusion among online reviewers as to exactly what was scripted and what wasn’t. HitFix points out that the mix is more subtle than in Baron Cohen’s last foray, Borat, so we may not know the difference. They also note that the movie “pushes the R rating as hard” and “introduces the erect penis into the conversation, and with vigor.” Ahem.

All of the genitalia makes sense in the context of this backhanded compliment from Boxoffice:”The crown of the reigning king of bad taste must pass from John Waters to Sacha Baron Cohen.” (Slant goes one step farther telling us that Bruno is, “Milk with a talking penis.”) The Sun warns that “the pygmy sex scene is one of the most horrific incidents ever committed to celluloid.” We have mental trauma just from reading that.

Critics disagree about whether the plot behind the stunts is better or worse than in the first film and whether the film helps the gay community or hurts it. But there does seem to be a general assent that Baron Cohen succeeds in lampooning a lot of timely social issues, including gay rights and our perception of celebrity.

While everyone seems a little uncomfortable with the latest edition of Baron Cohen’s guerrilla-comedy pretty much everyone agrees that it’s a cringer worth watching, and probably better than Borat.

As to the future of the Baron Cohen franchise, as The Guardian notes, “His star has risen to such an extent, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to make this type of undercover comedy again. Nor will he need to.” But isn’t that what makes him so funny?