Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

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Dumped by its original distributor because of its title—apparently the word “Muslim” equals instant controversy and box office death for post-9/11 movies—Albert Brooks’s Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World should, instead, have been ditched for not being very funny. The film finds writer-director Brooks playing a doofy variation of himself who, unable to procure any decent big-screen work in the States (reading for a role in Penny Marshall’s new project, he’s not so subtly derided for his remake of The In-Laws), is given the opportunity to travel to India and Pakistan on behalf of the U.S. government to find out what makes Muslims laugh. Typical neurotic mess that he is, Brooks kvetches about every aspect of his ambassadorial assignment, from the 500-page report he has to write to the fact that no limo is waiting for him upon arrival in New Delhi, and every once in a while—such as a telephone call rant about snow globes, Finding Nemo, and Popeye—one of Brooks’s overanxious tirades hits the amusing mark. Yet despite its intended goal to portray Muslims as more than simply bomb-toting terrorists, this slapdash and weak-kneed film is almost completely stripped bare of any political content, offering up a strained fish-out-of-water story colored by tepidly subversive jokes about militant Muslims and anti-Jewish sentiment. Brooks has his stand-up performance (in which he deconstructs traditional ventriloquism and improvisation routines) met with silence from an English-speaking Indian crowd, turns down a sitcom deal from Al Jazeera for a show called That Darn Jew, and unintentionally sparks regional military conflict, all clownish scenarios that use Muslims as confused straight men for his fretfully sarcastic shtick. Tutoring his comedy-ignorant Indian assistant Maya (Sheetal Sheth), Brooks dubs himself “The Henry Higgins of Comedy,” while his wife (Amy Ryan), proud of her husband’s diplomatic endeavor, labels him “The Henry Kissinger of Comedy.” However, given that his fruitless search for a Muslim sense of humor only teaches him that “shit jokes don’t play in New Delhi” and “Polish jokes work everywhere,” Brooks should have kept looking.

Warner Independent Pictures
98 min
Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks, Amy Ryan, Sheetal Sheth, Emma Lockhart, Homie Doroodian, Jon Tenny, John Carroll Lynch

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