Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Although not nearly as hilarious as some of his earlier films, diehard fans of Albert Brooks should still make a place for the amusing Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World in their Brooks film library.
Like many of Brooks' films, the film follows a very simple premise--in this case, a comedic and insightful look at today's post 9/11 world--without surprise twists or convolutions. And we appreciate that. Playing himself, Brooks imagines what would happen if the U.S. Government sent him to India and Pakistan to find out what makes the over 300 million Muslims in the region laugh. It isn't the job itself that's seems daunting, it's the fact the comedian has to write a 500-page report about it, having basically only written screenplays (which are, you know, 112-120 pages, tops, including scene set-ups). But Brooks presses on anyway, accompanied by two state department handlers (John Carroll Lynch, Jon Tenney) and his trusted Indian assistant (Sheetal Sheth), and goes on a journey through comedy. Let's just say, the report is going to be hard to write.
Brooks the actor is an acquired taste. While his veritable self-deprecating style can often be hilarious, it also tends to grate. I think he secretly wants you to cringe, watching him be humiliated and incredibly irritating. In Looking for Comedy, Brooks starts off embarrassing himself right away, by meeting with director Penny Marshall, who is looking for the next Jimmy Stewart to play the lead in a Harvey remake. The reactions are priceless. It goes on from there. There's the fact he isn't the government's first choice for this assignment. He has to fly coach all the way to India and take a sweaty cab to the hotel. He puts on the first comedy concert in India--and then bombs. And, of course, that damn report. On and on it goes, while his co-stars fit around him nicely, especially the adorable Sheth, whose sweet earnestness tempers Brooks' annoying habits.
Looking for Comedy is certainly standard Brooks fare, getting a little silly at times. He goes for some obvious jokes, like sharing a New Delhi "office" with a customer service center for many U.S. retailers. But it's pretty obvious Brooks has mellowed with age. The comedian has decided to take a hard look at how things have changed. He himself explains: "My job, what I do for a living, is to try to elicit laughter. And when the world changed, eliciting laughter with subjects that were funny to me before 9/11 just didn't seem good enough. I thought why do I want to take a year out of my life and make a funny movie about dogs? I'm not thinking about dogs anymore." True, there are no dogs in the movie. Instead, the writer/director shows us a modern India and poignantly finds the humor within these politically turbulent times.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.