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Finding little to laugh about

Albert Brooks aims for post-9/11 humor in 'Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.'

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / January 20, 2006



Albert Brooks has said in interviews that he made "Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World," which he wrote, directed, and starred in, because he wanted to see if he could make a post-9/11 comedy.

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Well, the film is post-9/11 all right, but despite a few big laughs, it's not much of a comedy.

"Real Life," "Modern Romance," and "Lost in America," Brooks's first three directorial outings, were one-of-a-kind classics, but his subsequent films, "Defending Your Life," "Mother" (the best of them) and "The Muse," became increasingly sappy.

In "Looking For Comedy," as in "Real Life," he is playing himself, and the premise is promising: The State Department sends Brooks to India and Pakistan in a goodwill attempt to find out what makes Muslims laugh. It would have better if Brooks had invested more time trying to discover what makes Americans laugh.

Whether he is playing himself or a made-up character, Brooks's humor has always been bizarrely referential; he both celebrates and skewers his rampant egomania. In his new film, the recurring joke is that Brooks can't make anybody in India laugh. He performs his solo stand-up act in New Delhi and the packed house sits there stone-faced. (And they speak English, too.)

Brooks's flop sweat is funny, but a little goes a long way, and we get more than a little here.

Time has caught up with Brooks's beleaguered-man shtick. Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on HBO is now the gold standard for this sort of thing. Brooks might have redeemed the movie if he had provided more of a satiric edge, but he softens any potential controversies.

To begin with, India, while it has a large Muslim population, is a rather safe choice to set this movie in, as opposed to, say, Iran or Iraq. And the gags that Brooks delivers are so pointedly apolitical that they could just as easily play on "The Tonight Show." Actually, "The Tonight Show" has much sharper political humor.

The only time Brooks wades into rough waters is during a scene where he is offered a new sitcom by Al Jazeera TV called "That Darn Jew," about an American Jewish man who moves into a Muslim neighborhood. Maybe he should have made that movie. Grade: B

Rated PG-13 for drug content and brief strong language.

Sex/Nudity: None. Violence: 2 mild instances. Profanity: 3 strong terms, 12 milder. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 4 scenes

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