One could consider Albert Brooks’ humor a bit of an acquired taste; his comedy is heavily dependent upon bizarre situations and dry quips, but there is no denying that the man is very funny. In Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (which was canned by its original distributor because of the title), Brooks is clearly trying to break the notion that Muslim automatically equals terrorist in this post-9/11 world. People will prematurely pigeonhole the film as degrading to Muslims, but the reality is that Comedy is really a self-deprecating portrait of Albert Brooks’ persona.
The film’s opening sequence is masterful, as Brooks (playing himself), shows up for a casting interview with Penny Marshall (playing herself). Marshall and her minions are looking for “the next Jimmy Stewart” for their remake of Harvey, and Brooks promptly ruins his chances in a few scenes of comedic timing brilliance. Brooks portrays himself as being primarily out-of-work and looking for something, anything.
An opportunity comes his way from the U.S. Government, who is looking for alternative, non-violent ways of interacting with Muslim people across the globe. Their plan is to send Brooks and a few government drones over to India and Pakistan to find out what makes the residents of both countries laugh. More specifically, what makes Muslims laugh? The group arrives, and after several unsuccessful interviews a comedy concert is planned as a “learning experience” for Brooks so that he can fulfill the 500-page report quota demanded for the project.
The first half of the film plays very well, as Brooks’ script is loaded with funny moments and a certain contagious breezy style. The second half loses steam as a contrivance arises, placing Brooks in the middle of a brewing military situation. The whole things feels wrong and desperate, and it all leads up to an abrupt, “we’re bankrupt of ideas” ending that is unsatisfying at best.
The performances are fun across the board. Brooks is his usual likeable self and makes it clear from the outset that the film intends no harm. Sheetal Sheth is the real breakthrough, however, as she is hilarious as the smart young assistant who is eager to learn as much about America as possible, specifically in terms of comedy. Sheth’s touch for comedy is effortless and she is definitely a young talent to be on the lookout for. Senator Fred Dalton Thompson also turns up in an entertaining cameo that simply involves him trying to convey this bizarre mission to Brooks.
Perhaps already misunderstood, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is a hit-and-miss effort that has enjoyable moments, but isn’t as edgy or outright funny as it should be. Again, the film has no intention of ill will on anyone except close-minded individuals who think every Muslim is a fanatical terrorist. Brooks is a brilliant comedian, but we’re all still waiting for the big masterpiece that showcases every ounce of his talent.
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
Length: 98 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for drug content and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: January 20, 2006 (Limited)
Directed by: Albert Brooks
Written by: Albert Brooks
Cast: Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth, Jon Tenney, John Carroll Lynch, Amy Ryan, Fred Dalton Thompson