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To be offended by Sacha Baron Cohen's character Bruno, you have to be missing the point that of course this former Austrian television host is shallow and meant to be mocked. To be offended by the movie Bruno, however, seems a little easier. At last, a movie truly with something for everyone, even if that something is outrage.

Not content to be a comedian, Baron Cohen treads the more dangerous ground of being a satirist. His comedy is confrontational and dangerous, and probably safest viewed a few years afterward. With Director Larry Charles, Baron Cohen has found a collaborator who will help him push; the only real problem with Bruno is that it can't focus on what it's trying to push against.

Or maybe that's part of the joke, too. While the outré Bruno traipses around the country innocently exposing homophobia, he might be exposing the audience's as well. Sometimes it's an understandable target; those that believe you can pray away the gay certainly seem to be turning a blind eye to some realities.

But at other points, the "real person" reaction to a Bruno situation isn't small-minded. It's natural. Hotel security guards aren't anti-gay; they're more disturbed by ridiculously over-the-top bondage gear (including a combination ball-gag and toilet brush), a room smeared with what looks like crap, and a children's movie about to play on Pay-Per-View when the remote control got stuck up Bruno's aschen, as he pronounces it in his mock German.

Or maybe he has exposed my own homophobia, which I rationalize is really that I just don't believe in cleaning the toilet with my mouth. Feel free to write in and put me straight. So to speak.

The real thread tying it all together comes from Bruno's quest to be famous, a worthy if perhaps overused target of satire if there ever was one. After proving how vapid his original milieu of the fashion world is, Bruno leaves Austria for Hollywood.

There he and Charles can slash viciously. After the success of Borat, it seems impossible that there would be anyone in Los Angeles unaware of Baron Cohen's bit, but there they are. An incredulous talent manager and a television producer are probably the most surprising marks; Paula Abdul, I believe would have no clue. (And yet at least she walks out on him much faster than his manager does.)

All the steps Bruno takes for fame are outrageous, but painfully accurate. It's just that sometimes the movie goes from accurate to mean. Why should Senator Ron Paul be humiliated? Charles and Baron Cohen don't seem to be saying anything about his policies or his politics; they just want to see him get uncomfortable and angry.

And why wouldn't he? The same thing applies for an inexplicable side trip to Army Boot Camp; we GET that Drill Sergeants can be a**holes; in fact, that's pretty much their job.

Which also brings up the question of how much really is staged instead of let to happen organically. The Army had to have known something was up, as Baron Cohen does nothing to his hair in boot camp. While an exploration of a swinger's club starts off seeming real, it ends up with Bruno gaining a potential partner who isn't just in on the joke; she's rewriting it as she goes along.

In other places, it's amazing that Baron Cohen didn't get killed. A trip to the Middle East seems hairy. A hunting trip turns really bad - and there's no doubt that those guys aren't paid actors.

Through it all, the comedian remains unflappable and committed to his character. Like him or hate him, he is a strong talent, unflappably his character in the face of danger. Ultimately, this is what both redeems him and makes his films so worthwhile even when they seem not to be. He's as unafraid of embarrassing himself as he is others. At least he's willing to be part of the joke.

If it seems like I'm equivocating a bit, it's because I am. This movie is offensive. It's designed to be offensive. Though I laughed hard, I'm still pretty sure it was laughing back at me. And yet, there's no denying a certain genius at work, one that makes me intrigued to see it again and get the DVD so that I can answer all my behind-the-scenes questions.

If you're thin-skinned, stay home. You'll win, because after all, satire is what closes on Saturday night. Too bad, because it's exactly what we need, nagging at the edge of our culture.

Derek McCaw

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