March 2, 2006

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Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (PG-13)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Albert Brooks goes to the well of comedy that is his own so-so career once again for Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, a film with a cute concept and an iffy execution.

Brooks, playing a character named Albert Brooks and best known for playing a talking fish in Finding Nemo, is having a hard time finding that next great role. He gets a letter from the State Department wherein Fred Dalton Thompson (regular on Law & Order, Senator from Tennessee) asks him to come to Washington. An intrigued Brooks goes and finds out they want him to head up a government-sponsored research trip to find out what makes the Hindi and Muslims of India and the Muslims of Pakistan laugh. He’s honored, though a little less so when he finds out that the government’s first few choices for a comedian to take the trip turned it down because they were working. With a facial expression that’s like a shoulder shrugging sigh, he agrees to take the assignment and heads to New Delhi.

Brooks’ lackluster resume and the fact that he’s best known for Nemo are reoccurring jokes in Looking for Comedy, as is the fact that the government expects him to write a 500-page report. He’s constantly asking assistant Maya (Sheetal Sheth) how many pages of information they have and she perkily responds that they have two or maybe three.
Maya turns out to be the best audience Brooks gets in India. He holds a comedy show and gets few laughs at the barrage of moldy comedy bits he uses to attempt to determine what type of comedy (slapstick, improv, jokes) his Hindi and Muslim audience find funniest. Brooks the character is despondent and, though he asks many people what makes them laugh, comes away with little information more useful than the fact that Polish jokes work everywhere.

Albert Brooks is an acquired taste and many of his jokes — like most of his movies — seem to go on about a third too long. Though he wasn’t technically playing himself in The Muse, the Albert Brooks he plays here is very much like the completely fictional character he played in that movie — a smart talented man who can’t quite break through to the greatness he thinks he deserves. His characters obsess on trivialities (here the 500-page report, his seating on an airplane) and suffer through the indignity that comes with moderate success (al Jazeera’s entertainment network wants to sign him on for a sitcom called That Darn Jew). The result is a guy you either have great sympathy for or want to smack.

The movie is funny — a running joke about the call center near Brooks’ office gets a giggle every time. But overall the movie isn’t nearly as funny as I’ll bet the pitch for the movie was.

C+

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World will run at The Music Hall starting March 26. See themusichall.org for more information.

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