Okay, so a lot of things have changed in this country with regards to attitudes towards gays, but just how will America deal with the envelope-pushing antics of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest creation? “Brüno” has already offended a few in the gay community, but is also certain to be utterly avoided by America’s sadly larger homophobic community. As far as I’m concerned, just how this obviously risky material will fare is anyone’s guess, since from all accounts “Brüno” is no cuddly “Will and Grace” or “The Birdcage” and really puts its confrontational money where it’s transgressive mouth is, however comically presented. It’s R-rating has been deemed by Roger Ebert and many others as “very, very hard.”

Reviews are positive, more or less, but critics are somewhat divided. Ebert liked it a lot. Owen Glieberman awarded it a fairly rare A-. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, however, was less amused and trotted out a variation of the “queerface” meme some were concerned with a few weeks back. On the other hand, as I’ve discussed at my other blog home in another context, Lane’s statements are often, to be extremely easy on him, ill-informed. Joe Morgenstern, on the other hand, makes his point simply enough: he doesn’t think it’s funny, just kind of gross.

Hollywood Reporter box office prognosticator Carl DiOrio is fairly high on the film regardless, calling about $30 million or more for the Larry Charles directed stunt comedy. Pamela McClintock, his opposite number at Variety is saying it should debut in vicinity of Baron Cohen’s prior out of the box hit, “Borat,” at somewhere near $28.5 million. Apparently, the logic here is that Cohen’s now far greater fame will be canceled out by subject matter/content that some audience members who liked the earlier film may just want to avoid this time around. There’s obviously general agreement about the numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this one proved the prognosticators wrong either by making a lot less or a lot more money than expected.

There is another major release this week — in terms of theater counts, at least. Based on a popular novel, “I Love You, Beth Cooper” is an attempt at a post-John Hughes teen romantic comedy directed by Chris Columbus. In my estimation, Columbus is one of the least interesting major directors to ever look through a viewfinder, and the Harry Potter films are well rid of him. His latest might have nevertheless been a canny bit of counter-programming in a week sure to be dominated by a very un-teen girl friendly comedy and various action-packed movie monoliths, but no one seems to hold out much hope for this one and thoroughly horrid reviews aren’t helping.

a robotAnd, oh yeah, there’s the small matter of two megahits “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” (which past the $300 million mark this week) and the solidly successful star-driven “Public Enemies.” All have barely begun to fight and are all expected to do strong business with reasonable drop-offs from last week. And “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is next Wednesday. To quote an old soul tune, it’s getting mighty crowded.

Even so, this week sees the debut of three notable limited releases. The critically praisedHumpday,” which I’ve seen myself, presents a very funny look at same-sex relations through what seems to be exactly the opposite end of the looking glass as “Brüno” and has at least some break-out potential. The documentary “Soul Power” (which I blew my chance at seeing early), featuring the amazing music acts who played as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman prepared to face off in Zaire in 1974, is generating the kind of solid press that certainly sounds like a lot more than a bunch of trims from the earlier documentary, “When We Were Kings.” Finally, however, the martial-arts action fan in me is sorry to report that the anime-based “Blood, the Last Vampire” is getting a complete writerly vivisection and has one scribe pulling out the ultimate critical weapon: an Uwe Boll comparison.

UPDATE: Dennis Cozzalio contemplates not his navel, but mainstream flickdom’s most rarely shown, but often venerated body part — which is no doubt behind much of the “Brüno” hubbub. Cinephilia rarely gets this uncomfortably funny.