Written and Directed
by Albert Brooks
Running Time: 1:38
for drug content and brief strong language.
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World has a good premise and started off strongly, but petered out as it went along.
The United States government has decided the best way to understand the Muslim world is to find out what makes them laugh. So, they pick the well known comedian Albert Brooks to take a trip to India and Pakistan and find out what makes Muslims laugh. Brooks, who was chosen because a number of other people were 'busy', has to compile a 500 page report by the end of his month long journey. Along with two government agents and an Indian guide, Brooks hits the streets and when that doesn't work, sets up a comedy show, all to find out what makes people laugh.
The idea behind Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World was a good one. It allows Brooks to make fun of the world situation we're in right now and tweak various stereotypes along the way. The problem is, the 'joke' isn't a feature length joke, it's more of a short film joke. At first the idea, and how Brooks goes along with it, is rather funny. Sending a Jew into a Muslim world to find out what makes them laugh is a pretty interesting idea. Trying to find an assistant who understands the job and doesn't hate him for being a Jew was funny. The best running joke in the movie involves a call center in the building in which Brooks gets an office while he's in India. Apparently even the White House outsources to India. But beyond some strong single jokes, the movie doesn't have enough to sustain the momentum. The entire movie is basically about Brooks trying to figure out how to write 500 pages. It no longer is about what makes people laugh, although the comedy show was a brilliant disaster. But once that show ends, the rest of the movie feels like filler.
There is a secondary plot that looked like it was thrown in for the specific purpose of making the movie a few minutes longer. Both the Indian and Pakistani government are trying to figure out why Brooks is in the country asking people questions. Neither side of course talks to each other, and an armed conflict arises along the border. The movie ends in a way that leaves you thinking we're on the brink of nuclear war. I didn't find that very funny. Not because I'm anti-war, but because it just wasn't entertaining. Maybe to Brooks the idea that a comedy show can lead to a war is comical, but it felt more like a letdown.
Albert Brooks himself has a low key kind of humor that I enjoy. He even goes to great lengths in the film to explain sarcasm to his assistant Maya (Sheetal Sheth) and his deadpan tone can be very funny, especially when he's in a country that barely understands him to begin with. Although it was kind of strange that every time he spoke, all I could think about was Finding Nemo. I usually don't associate voice talent with the actual person, but for some reason Brooks and Marlin the clown fish go hand in hand now. His supporting cast was decent. Sheth held her own although her character didn't have much to do. She was also involved in a story line about her jealous boyfriend that seemed to serve little or no purpose. John Carroll Lynch and Jon Tenney as the two agents assigned to Brooks were also decent, although again, they didn't have much to do. This movie completely rests on the shoulders of Brooks.
I liked the fact that a lot of this movie was shot in Delhi, since my family is from there and I've been there at least a dozen times. Brooks captured the look and feel of the country and how an outsider might react to the seemingly endless amount of people that wander the streets. He gained access to a lot of different places, even having to switch hotel rooms with a senior government official in India in order to gain entry into a government building. At least Brooks went all out for the production; I just wish he had developed a stronger script before starting off.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World was a so-so movie. It had a good idea and started off well, but the joke started to wear thin after a while and the film became bloated and uninspired by the finish.
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