Monday Morning Critic 7.20

On tap this week:
— Explaining the epic failure of Bruno
— El Spirito
And slightly much more!

You know what’s amazing? The descent of Bruno from white hot summer blockbuster to perhaps the most spectacular flop of 2009, that’s what. It’s amazing enough that I want to focus on it for this week’s MMC. That and I don’t have any whacky shenanigans in the last week that are worthy enough to repeat.

Hovering around $50 million in box office receipts so far, and not likely to rebound in light of the major blockbusters of the season still arriving in theatres en masse, Bruno is many things. But it can’t be considered a massive failure (especially considering the R rating it received) because of a lot of things. It has an R rating, thus its box office receipts are going to be capped at the $200 million mark to begin with. And even that would be something remarkable, considering that the year’s other highly anticipated R-rated comedy (The Hangover) topped $235 million as one of the nine total films with a same rating to crack that mark. So the odds are long and hard against it, so $100 million is a more realistic goal.

Considering that Borat crossed $120 million just in the states, and Bruno arrived with more hype, an easy $100 million first month should’ve been in the cards. The fact that it isn’t the highest grossing comedy of the summer is a bit of a disappointment. This was perhaps the highest touted of the summer comedies, moreso than Hangover and Apatow production Funny People (which also doubles as Adam Sandler’s big summer comedy). So the fact that it hasn’t crossed $50 million as of today is a massive disappointment, though the film already has made back its budget. So it’s profitable already, which ultimately is the goal for every film, but it’s not going to be the money maker that Borat was.

That has to be a disappointment, but there’s a larger picture to be found here. I was a bit excited when Bruno was announced, as was anyone who really enjoyed Borat, because Cohen is the hot comic property out there. But Bruno and its relative lack of success, and general abysmal word of mouth resulting in said lack of success, is proof of something. It’s what it isn’t proof of that is more important, though.

Bruno isn’t proof of anything but the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen made a critical mistake in what his next big solo project should be. Bruno the character is so unlike Borat that making a similar film is going to be hard. There is a similar connection between the two but making similar films, with similar gags, isn’t going to make it all work the same. Bruno was designed to fail and there’s no way around it.

Listen to me now and believe me later.

One of the reasons why Borat worked so well is that Borat Sagdiyev is a character who has an appeal through ignorance. He’s not an idiot, but he just doesn’t know any better. If he was Southern you’d call him a redneck, but instead he’s just a dumb foreigner. Ignorant of Americana outside of what he knows from television, he’s reminiscent of the way many foreign groups are when they first come over to the shore. He does the things he does because he doesn’t know any better, pure and simple. We understand and sympathize, and we laugh hard because it’s the kind of mocking one can make and know that probably your ancestors would’ve done similar things (though not quite to the same degree). It’s a shared, universal ignorance that gets shed upon acclimation to a society. My presumption is that my great grandpa Meyer probably had some similar shenanigans when he came to American shores 100 years ago.

And that’s the problem, because Bruno Gehard isn’t ignorant. He knows better but doesn’t act it. And that’s what separates Borat from Bruno, and why the former did blockbuster business while the latter hasn’t.

People liked Borat because he was the ultimate exposing of other’s willful ignorance in light of his own. Bruno possesses none of those qualities and thus has limited appeal. For all the anal sex gags in the world that are funny, Bruno only exists as a sort of completely ridiculous homosexual stereotype who is meant to make people uncomfortable.

Nothing more.

That’s why he only works in small doses; Borat can work as a film character in a leading part because in ignorance we can find wisdom. Ali G works in a similar manner as well, though not as effectively as Borat. Bruno doesn’t. He’s only an irritant at best, a shameful parody of homosexuals worldwide at its worst.

Watching Bruno clips from Da Ali G Show gives you an idea; in small doses, seeing a flaming homosexual ask ridiculous questions to Neo-Nazis and other “fun” types is amusing but it can only go so far. There comes a point when you have to be able to like a character for their eccentricities and it’s hard to like Bruno. Bruno doesn’t give you anything to like and in a comedy you have to identify with the characters moreso then in any other genre. In a film that’s not generally that funny it kills repeat business, which is how Borat became a sleeper hit. Borat had such tremendous word of mouth that it opened huge in a small run and made a ton of money in its second week, virtually unheard for a small comedy from a Brit.

Through a veil of ignorance truth can come to light, so people who don’t know better can get to the truth of the manner effectively. That’s a lesson Cohen embraced the first time around and seemingly forgot for his second ambush comedy.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s Film – The Spirit


In any walk of life, you build up capital. You can spend it however you want, but there has to be a proper time to blow it all. Hold on to it for too long and you’ll have missed an opportunity. Use it too quickly and you’ll blow any chance you have for long term gains. And when it comes to movies, there comes a point when you have enough good will to pull off a pet project. Frank Miller turned the good will from Sin City and the “Year One” storyline used for Batman Begins into his own pet project (and box office disaster) in The Spirit.

The Spirit is actually a pretty famous character, appearing in both comic book and comic strips over the years, and in an era where anyone who’s written a comic book can seemingly get a movie made out of the deal, it was only natural that The Spirit would get his due. And Frank Miller, taking all the movie capital he had to use, got an A-list cast and a blue screen to make The Spirit.

Following the tale of the hero of the same name and his valiant struggle against arch nemesis The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson), The Spirit spends 120 minutes of screen time trying to foil his latest scheme. Meant as the first film in a potential franchise, The Spirit came out at perhaps the worst time ever: Christmas 2008.

It opened during Christmas when seemingly half a dozen films came out at the exact same time. Its box office total, not even $40 million including foreign money, probably could’ve hit closer to $100 million just in the U.S if it’s released in the summer (where it fit better, genre wise) or in the early spring before the blockbuster season (ala Watchmen, which cleared $180 million all in this spring). If Transformers 2 can hit $300 million plus just domestically and it received some of the worst reviews of the last decade, then The Spirit could’ve cleared a third of that.

The other thing that kind of thrashed the entire franchise concept behind it is that it got pretty rotten reviews for a film that didn’t deserve it. It’s not a great film, and it’s not even a good one, but I can see what Miller was trying to do. This was a film that tried to mock the whole film noir concept while being a great noir piece, but failed in the latter while succeeding in the former quite well. This is a ruthless parody of the genre, which is where I think Miller was trying to go because the noir genre hasn’t really been poked fun at in a while. Where he doesn’t succeed is making it a great genre piece to really nail home the parody. That’s the key in any genre parody, ala I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. That was a great parody of the blaxpoitation era while being a great blaxpoitation era film.

The Spirit is primed to gain a sizable cult audience over the years, meaning it’s not a good film in critic speak, but it’s worth a watch for the sheer fact that sometimes you need to see a guy taking everything he’s gained and shooting for the moon.

Mild recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college Co-Eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Ugly Truth – Gerard Butler is the foul mouthed hooligan who tells women what they need to hear. Katherine Heigl is the woman trying to tame him,

See It – I’ve actually seen the flick, at the sneak last Friday with a lady friend, and it was quite good. Not a great flick by any means (review up Friday), obviously, but it’s a solid view that won’t make you think you blew your cash.

G-Force – A bunch of gerbils with celebrity voices save the world.

Skip It – Animals in a Jerry Bruckheimer flick? Please. If it was Jon Favreau, Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell saving the world by blowing stuff up I’d be all for it. But as gerbils? I’ll pass.

The Orphan – A family adopts a little girl, who then proceeds to kill them all because she’s a demon or something.

Skip It – It may not be remade from a Japanese film, but it still stinks like crap much the same.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.


Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!