Over the line again, this time on homophobia

Brüno, Brüno, Brüno, my little strüdel. Did you really wave your Wiener schnitzel at Ron Paul, interview Paula Abdul about humanitarianism as she sat on an undocumented worker, and confuse hummus with Hamas while brokering peace in the Middle East?

Packed with talking penises, celebrity ambushes, and butt jokes galore, the latest provoc-umentary from Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Da Ali G Show) is a crude, cringe-worthy, and intermittently funny affair that triggers the gag reflex. I sincerely can't tell you whether I was choking with laughter or keeping from choking.

Brüno stars Cohen as the flamboyant Austrian fashionplate, host of Vienna television's Funkyzeit, a manchild with bigger sausages to fry. Why be an A-list celeb in a B-list country when you can be the A-list personality on the planet, "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler"? (I didn't laugh, either.)

While the deeply shallow, openly gay Brüno comes to America because it is the proving ground for global celebrity, his creator would seem to have chosen the United States all the better to expose what a celebrity-mad, superficial, homophobic nation we are.

Brüno's been out so long that he assumes out is in. Many of the real people encountered by this fictional fashionista disagree. The film's humor comes from Brüno's obliviousness to the fact that he embodies every sex- and fashion- and celebrity-obsessed gay stereotype that some Americans would like to shove back into the closet, not to mention the 19th century.

It's unclear how many of the celebrities and civilians that Brüno encounters realize that they're being sucker-punched by a comedian in character - a confection of sun-streaked hair, air-brushed skin, and cheek-baring short-shorts.

Is it therefore funny that focus-groups are squeamish watching footage from a reality show where Brüno swans his schwanzstucker? Or that a former homosexual that Brüno consults to deprogram him of being gay is visibly uncomfortable when Bruno comes on to him? Or that Congressman Ron Paul, assuming his interrogator is an Austrian journalist, calls Brüno a queer when the latter unzips his pants mid-interview? Doubling its potential audience, the film invites us to laugh both at flaming homosexuals and at flaming homophobes.

Mostly this slippery and scattershot film takes aim at fish in the celebrity-political barrel. So blurry is the line here between documentary and mockumentary that who can tell whether Abdul was in on the joke about hypocritical celebs who exploit people while extolling humanism? Who can tell if Harrison Ford was being himself or whether he was enlisted to play the celeb profanely brushing off a stalker?

Unfunny as Brüno's celebrity ambushes are, when Cohen hits the comic bull's-eye, you feel its piercing sting. The film offers a sequence where Brüno auditions stage parents as to where they would draw the line to get their kid a role.

"If necessary, would you make your baby lose 10 pounds or get liposuction?" Brüno asks an enthusiastic mother, who nods yes as her eyes freeze in fear. Real? Staged? Dunno. In sequences such as this, the boundary-pushing Brüno erases the line between humor and horror. Funny? Nein. Audacious? Jawohl.

Maybe boundaries aren't such a bad idea.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

Read her blog, "Flickgrrl,"

at http://www.philly.com/philly



Directed by Larry Charles. With Candice Cunningham, Tom Yi, Ben Youcef, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sandra Seeling, Trishelle Cannatella, Alexander von Roon, Alice Evans. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 21 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language).