Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for drug content and brief language
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Albert Brooks, John Carroll Lynch, Jon Tenney, Sheetal Sheth, Amy Ryan, Fred Dalton Thompson, Penny Marshall, Emma Lockhart
Director: Albert Brooks
Screenplay: Albert Brooks
Review published May 17, 2006
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is Albert Brooksí (The Muse, Defending Your Life) first film in six years, and while it is certainly full of Albertís usual witticisms and funny characters, the concept itself is funnier to hear about than it is to actually view. Thatís not to say itís terrible, as it is amiable and entertaining throughout, even when the situations arenít really rife with good material. However, despite a number of clever moments, the excursions into broad humor donít always pan out, with an old-fashioned sitcom-ish sense of laid back jokes that feels a bit too tired to be part of such a high-concept and very fresh idea for genuine laughter.Brooks stars as himself, in this fictionalized account of being out of work, looking for his next big project, only to find most of the doors have shut on him after the commercial and critical failure of the remake of The In-Laws. An unusual offer is then presented to him by none other than the State Department, with an an ambitious plan to smooth out relations with the Arab countries by sending a comedian over there to write up a report on just what makes Muslims laugh. His goal is to enter Western-friendlier countries with a large Muslim population like India (with its 150 million Muslims) and Pakistan, talk to the average man in the street about what makes him laugh, and type it all up in a 500-page report that might earn him the vaunted Medal of Freedom.Things seem to be on the up-and-up for Brooks until he actually starts on the trip only to find that he has earned a couple of fairly useless tag-a-longs from the State Department who follow his every move, while the accommodations and overall game plan appear to be nothing like what he was promised in the initial proposal. He also finds that he has no real concept as to what really makes Muslims laugh, and the feeling is mutual, with a divide that only serves to frustrate Brooks into coming up with a live show where he will throw a kitchen sink approach to comedy to find out what works and what doesnít.
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World may have its moments, perhaps enough to prove a worthwhile viewing for most that enjoy Brooksí style of neurotic humor, but it is marred by long stretches of laugh-less developments. The longer it takes for certain events to develop, the less the payoff is, with an especially tedious concert performance where the jokes fizzle, not only for the Indian audience, but also for us as viewers. Ironically, we can understand more often than not as to why Brooksí jokes arenít really funny to them, since they arenít very funny to us, the ones that actually get the joke, either. The ultimate irony comes when you realize that by Brooksís frustration in not finding comedy in a land without comedians is only further compounded by the fact that he didnít really bring along enough choice comedy of his own.
©2006 Vince Leo