Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Sony Pictures Classics was the original distributor of Albert Brooks' new movie, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (Warner Independent snapped it up quickly after). They dropped the film, supposedly because they were afraid that the title would run afoul of the politically correct. After seeing this film, one could argue that Sony Pictures dropped it not because of the title, but because it just wasn't that funny. What's the truth? Nobody will ever know. But the premise is classic. The government commissions Albert Brooks (Brooks, Finding Nemo, The In-Laws, playing himself) to take a one-month trip to India and Pakistan to write a 500-page report on what makes Muslims laugh. The government believes that if they understand what makes them laugh, they can perhaps understand them better as people.

This should be familiar territory for any fan of Brooks, or people who have seen his movies. He plays the same character he does in every movie. Brooks is nebbish, neurotic, and prone to rambling and complaining. He's self-absorbed, but not in a malicious manner. And as soon as he hears that he needs to write a 500-page report, this is all he can think about. Brooks is also a good sport, and takes frequent potshots at himself, including trashing his last film, The In-Laws at the beginning. The good news is that Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is not racist. The chief target of the humor is Brooks himself, who is basically clueless for the duration of the film.

The best moments in the movie occur at the beginning. Brooks acquires two useless government officials, Mark Brody (Jon Tenney, Buying the Cow, You Can Count on Me) and Stuart (John Carroll Lynch, Catch That Kid, Gothika). Nothing seems to go right, and it takes a while before Brooks is able to find Maya, (Sheetal Sheth, American Chai, ABCD) somebody who can translate and take notes for him while he interviews locals. He sets about trying to gather information and even sets up a comedy show that bombs horribly. Even after the show, he refuses to acknowledge how bad he did. Instead, he continues on, oblivious to everything around them.

Brooks' comedy loses steam fast. He works best as an actor when people can laugh at his cluelessness. Brooks takes it a bit far here, and becomes annoying. Part of the joke is that nobody can be as clueless (or perhaps arrogant) as he can, but it doesn't work. There isn't enough in the script to take it as far as it needs to go. Instead, Brooks concocts a story about Indian and Pakistani intelligence both worried about this American guy who keeps asking questions and crossing the border. This story starts to build, then Brooks abruptly ends the movie. With humor that is not funny, one would hope that Brooks is going for something deeper. Sadly, this is not the case. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World doesn't come to any enlightening conclusions. Fans of Brooks should like this film. Non-fans will like the first half, then get bored.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated PG-13 for drug content and brief strong language.

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