Albert Brooks as Albert Brooks
Sheetal Sheth as Maya
John Carroll Lynch as Stuart
Jon Tenney as Mark Brody
Amy Ryan as Emily Brooks
Fred Dalton Thompson as Himself
Penny Marshall as Herself
Shaheen Sheik as Anisha Kishore
Conrad Bachmann as Senator
Homie Doroodian as Majeed
Yasmine Hannaney as Al Jazeera Receptionist
Marco Khan as Pakistani Comedian
Emma Lockhart as Laura
Marshall Manesh as Shaif Al Rafi
P.D. Mani as Rasheed
Tony Montero as Don Budge
Sammy Sheik as Mukhtar Al Mujib
Directed by Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks has finally found the perfect audience for his sometimes tired sense of humor, and by bombing in the Muslim world–in the comedic sense–Brooks produces one of his funniest films in years.
Comic filmmaker Albert Brooks is hired by the U.S. government to find out what Muslims find funny, sending him to India and Pakistan to do research for his report. Once he arrives, nothing goes the way expected, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to fulfill his mission. And no, this is not a documentary.
Anyone under the age of 50 probably thinks of comedian and filmmaker Albert Brooks as one of those old school comics whose jokes are lame and annoying. Either that or they just think of him as the voice of Marlin from Pixar’s animated hit “Finding Nemo.” He certainly has developed his own unique schtick in the half dozen movies he’s directed and starred in, although he has never been quite as prolific or respected as his peer Woody Allen.
His latest has a premise as high concept as any of his previous films, although it’s certainly more relevant and topical to today’s world. That said, this isn’t the controversial political expose that some might expect, and Brooks’ trip into the “Muslim world”a misnomer considering that much of India’s population are Hindiis done mostly for laughs, more than anything else.
As if we didn’t know, Brooks’ career seems to be going nowhere, so he’s surprised when the government contacts him to write a 500-page report to help learn the personalities and preferences of Muslims, mostly what makes them laugh. This mandate is delivered by Senator Fred Thompson, who plays himself, as he convinces Brooks to participate at the request of the President himself, who apparently has a very good sense of humor. With the help of two aides and a cute and bubbly personal assistant, Brooks starts to interview people on the streets of India, who mostly recognize him as the “voice of Nemo”, but he soon realizes that the only way to really find out what makes them tick is by putting on a free stand-up comedy concert to try out different material.
Although there are plenty of laughs from the incompetence of this entire operation, including Brooks’ attempts to find a personal assistant, it’s not until where we get to “The Big Show” where Brooks really gets to pull out the stops and deliver the movie’s biggest laughs. After his first few jokes are met by silence, Brooks tries his hand at improv comedy, a bit that just gets funnier and funnier as it becomes obvious how bad he as at it. I literally had tears streaming down my face during this scene, something that not even “Wedding Crashers” nor “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” could accomplish.
Brooks is basically playing himself once again, and there’s really no other way to describe his performance, because his inimitable self-deprecating style is somewhat of an acquired taste. Still, the premise and the situations he gets into are funny in themselves, making this far more accessible than some of his previous work. If you like Brooks’ work, you’ll love this, and if you hate him, you may actually be able to give him a bit of slack. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that most of his scenes pair him with the delightful Sheetal Sheth as his assistant Maya, who is not only the perfect comic sidekick, but also gets in few kind-hearted jabs at Brooks’ expense herself.
The subplot involving Maya’s jealous Iranian boyfriend doesn’t really go anywhere, but Jon Tenney and John Carroll Lynch offer yucks as Brooks’ bumbling government appointed aides. After plans for Brooks to perform in Pakistan fall through, they sneak him across the border into Pakistan to meet a few “local comedians” causing a rift between the two countries, who can’t figure out what this American is up to. This development seems to be building to something interesting, but when the movie abruptly ends, it’s a bit of a let-down, because it seems as if the joke of the premise was used up. Actually, the film probably could have gone on for another ten minutes without wearing out its welcome.
Still, you have to be impressed with the fact that Brooks has devised a fish-out-of-water comedy that gets its laughs by making fun of Brooks himself, rather than resorting to jokes about the people of India. For that alone, Brooks deserves a bit more respect for this film than he’s received in the past.
The Bottom Line:
If you aren’t a fan of Albert Brooks’ brand of humor, “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” is a step in the right direction for winning over the skeptics. Even those who have no interest in world politics should get more than enough laughs from this clever premise to make this worthwhile.
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World opens in select cities on Friday.