Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World Review
By Joe Lozito
Typically, Albert Brooks' films start with a good concept. A man gets fed up and drops out of society ("Lost in America"); a man is forced to defend his actions in the afterlife ("Defending Your Life"); a man discovers a real-life Greek Muse working in Hollywood ("The Muse"
). Heck, his 1979 reality television mockumentary "Real Life" was more prescient than anyone could have guessed at the time. But, with a few exceptions, Mr. Brooks' films, which he writes, stars in and directs, tend to meander after the first half and peter out towards the end. In this way, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" fits in perfectly with Mr. Brooks' oeuvre.
There's a spot-on opening sequence in which Penny Marshall, as herself, quickly auditions Mr. Brooks, also playing himself, for the lead role in a remake of "Harvey". Mr. Brooks easily pokes fun at his horrendous remake of "The In-Laws" before returning home to his daughter proclaiming "life's cruel." If you believe the film, Mr. Brooks is "still looking for that great acting role." In "Looking for Comedy", he doesn't exactly find it, but at least he can say this is literally the part he was born to play.
In short order, Mr. Brooks is recruited by the U.S. Government to aid in a "new strategy" in the War on Terror: laughter. In a knowing wink to his career, actor/senator Fred Thompson cameos as himself to brief Mr. Brooks on his assignment: travel to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims (and Hindus and Sheiks into the bargain) laugh.
What follows isn't really a film as much as it's a series of gags. Mr. Brooks, like Woody Allen, is an older generation of comedian; he made his bones working the Catskills and the Carson show. But unlike Mr. Allen, to whom he is very often compared, Mr. Brooks never goes much deeper than the surface. He's content going for the quick gag rather than any kind of meaningful statement.
The brightest spot in the film is relative newcomer Sheetal Sheth as Maya, Mr. Brooks guide, stenographer, translator and general Girl Friday during his assignment. Ms. Sheth has a wide, radiant smile but sadly she is saddled with the kind of naïve, hero-worshipping role Mr. Brooks typically writes for his female characters (see Meryl Streep's giggling turn in "Defending Your Life").
Like many of Mr. Brooks' films, "Looking for Comedy" lives up to its premise for a while. There are some funny fish-out-of-water moments when our hapless hero first arrives in New Delhi (particularly a sly satire of outsourcing). But for the man who did some of his best work using only his voice in "Finding Nemo", the fish-out-of-water shtick gets old. While we follow Mr. Brooks in his search for comedy in the Muslim world, what we really discover is that he might be the wrong person for the job. If you like Albert Brooks you'll definitely get a few laughs out of this film. Those looking for comedy, however, may be sorely disappointed.