Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno: He's No Borat

Every lightning bolt Sacha Baron Cohen caught in a bottle with Borat three years ago turns to static in Bruno.

The new film, which backstrokes into theaters on a tidal wave of publicity over its coarse material, proves just how rare a cinematic feat was Baron Cohen's breakthrough role .

Borat blended scripted sequences with Candid Camera-style pranks into one hilarious romp across America. Bruno attempts the same formula, but the staged sequences fall pancake flat while the Punk'd moments feel equally hollow.

For the uninitiated, Bruno is Baron Cohen's gay Austrian fashionista, an irrepressible elf desperate for fame and fortune. His media platform, the Austrian show Funkyzeit, gets canceled after Bruno disrupts a Milan fashion show with his Velcro ensemble. Crushed, he cheers himself up by deciding to come to America to become "the biggest gay movie star since Schwarzenegger," an unfunny line that doesn't even make sense. He hooks up with a talent agent, shoots his own television pilot, and invites Paula Abdul to be interviewed while sitting on the backs of Mexican immigrant workers.

Laughing yet?

Bruno frontloads the gay sexual hijinks, which deadens their ability to shock us while showing how precious little new material Cohen cooked up for round two. The sexual gags are the only ones that work, but you'll feel more than a little dirty chuckling in your seat.

It's also a mean-spirited affair, especially when Bruno makes a sexual pass at former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Yes, the film is relentlessly shocking but rarely in a clever or inspired way. Stay through the entire 82 minutes and you will be treated to the site of an undulating erect penis, more simulated gay sex than the entire run of Showtime's Queer as Folk, a black baby pinned to the cross a la Jesus, and an anal bleaching segment for good measure. Oh, and a guest on Bruno's show describes Jamie Lynn Spears' baby as "white trash" and suggests aborting it.

Real or staged? Who knows. Unfunny? Yup.