Albert Brooks was on to something big. I heard the title "Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World" and somehow that was enough--I wanted to see the movie. Because Brooks is funny. Because he is Jewish. Because I'd expect that an inquisitive Jew looking for comedy in the Mid East would encounter hostility rather than laughter. What was going to happen?
The failure, therefore, of "Looking Comedy in a Muslim World" comes as a genuine disappointment. For the record, Brooks is funny. I laughed continuously throughout the film. Problem is, most of the jokes come at the expense of Brooks. The film's hero "Albert Brooks" is sent by the American government to Indian and Pakistan for a month with the purpose of writing a 500 page report on comedy in the Muslim World. In lieu of payment, he will receive a Medal of Honor. From the start, Brooks frets more about this absurd assignment than about understanding the Muslim population. He hires a charming assistant, Maya (Sheetal Sheth), to take notes, type, boost his confidence, and most importantly, pad the report.
Albert Brooks at the border
Brooks makes gentle fun of the American government; ineffectual bureaucracy is an easy, non-controversial target. The outsourcing of the American workforce is funny, sure. In a crowded, cubicle filled office, Brooks overhears accented English-speaking Indian employees answering calls on all matters of things: computer repairs, bank loans, even the White House hot line. Once is funny, the second time, still funny. The third and fourth and fifth go around, a little weak.
The main joke, though, is Brooks. He asks us to laugh--again and again and again--at the fact that he is best known for the voice of a fish in "Finding Nemo." He's not looking for comedy or understanding. What we have instead, sad to say, is a big fat, well-intentioned vanity project.