UPDATE: Universal has announced that the La Toya Jackson scene has been cut from the worldwide theatrical release.
For perhaps the first time ever in his comedy career, Sacha Baron Cohen has exercised restraint.
Earlier this week, I saw BRUNO (Cohen's follow-up to BORAT directed by Larry Charles), and thought nothing of a scene in which the flamboyant Austrian talk show host interviewed La Toya Jackson while sitting on, um, Mexican furniture. As with most of the bits in BRUNO, it was in spectacularly bad taste. But while Cohen was definitely taking advantage of Ms. Jackson's shocking naiveté, it actually turned out to be one of the least cruel vignettes in the entire movie. And what is cruel about it really has nothing to do with La Toya. In fact, the highlight of the scene - where Bruno commandeers Jackson's Blackberry and attempts to relay her ultra-famous brother's phone number to his assistant (in German) - actually elicits a kinda cute response from the giggly La Toya.
But, in light of yesterday's events, that joke isn't all that funny anymore, is it?
Evidently, Cohen and Charles agree. Last night, just hours prior to the Los Angeles premiere of BRUNO at the Grauman's Chinese Theater, the filmmakers met with the studio and decided to drop the scene for at least one screening. Makes sense, right? Whatever worked about that sequence before Michael Jackson's unexpected death yesterday was bound to fall flat last evening.
Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Cohen and Charles (and Universal) are faced with a much more difficult decision: do they elide the scene from thousands of already-struck prints? Given the speed with which we devour news stories nowadays, I feel that, in two weeks' time, most audiences will be less likely to take offense at what really is a fairly inoffensive Michael Jackson joke. If they do decide to lose the segment, however, I wonder if they'll also drop the Paula Abdul scene that essentially sets up La Toya's visit. Though there's nothing MJ-related in Abdul's sequence, it might trip up the flow of the film if they cut abruptly from her interview to the next bit. This, however, would necessitate the cutting of a great call-back joke later in the film.
Obviously, I think Cohen and Charles did the right thing by dropping the scene from last night's premiere. As for the theatrical release, I think they should probably just take their chances and leave La Toya in. Though Michael references might take some viewers out of the movie for a moment, trust me, they'll be shocked right back into laughing soon enough. Or they'll be driven from the theater, which happened to a group of people sitting in front of us during Monday's press screening!
The BRUNO embargo lifts this Monday. I'll post my reaction to the film then.