Albert Brooks' LOOKING finds big laughs, little else

Filmmaker/comedian Albert Brooks has a small cult following, and with each new film, the same question pops into our minds…will this one finally be his indisputable masterpiece? Considered by many to be the funniest man alive, with a mind for sharp wit and a joy for silly humor, the films that Brooks’ writes, directs and stars in always have their memorable moments and big laughs.
But nothing has come close to the peak of say, Woody Allen. LOST IN AMERICA came close, and his follow-up DEFENDING YOUR LIFE came even closer. It opened the door to a slightly wider audience, and there was some actual anticipation towards his next film. Unfortunately, his two follow-ups, MOTHER and THE MUSE were the weakest films in his career with a lot of dead space between the inspired bits. (THE MUSE was also undone by the casting of two of the least effective actresses in Hollywood, Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell.)

Brooks’ latest project is LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD, and while it’s a step up from his recent efforts, lackluster plotting ultimately ruins the film. It’s as if Brooks had a comedic idea, but performed the routine before perfecting the jokes.

In the film Albert Brooks takes a page from “Curb Your Enthusiam” and plays himself (which is smart since it’s really the only character he knows how to play anyway.) He’s hired by the American government to go to India and Pakistan to find out what makes the Muslim people laugh. Through comedy, the government hopes to better understand the culture.
The premise is sound enough for a comedy, and the set-up is one of the most enjoyable parts of the picture. Brooks goes to India (with a pair of government escorts), hires an assistant and then takes to the streets interviewing people to find out what makes them laugh.
Up to this point, the movie is plenty funny, but it appears as if Brooks stopped writing the script at this point and decided to just wing it. Sure we get some recurring bits about American humor that doesn’t translate, confusion by the local government as to Brook’s real intentions, his determination for people to find him funny when he’s supposed to be studying their culture, and the assistant’s rocky relationship with her boyfriend. But there’s no focus. Nothing is moving towards an “ah-ha” moment. And the film ends very abruptly, without ever attempting to answer the main question. This car has no engine and the pace, clocking only 100 minutes, drags harder than the final section of WEDDING CRASHERS.
Two things make me still want to recommend the picture. One is the jokes. Even with the script problems, the film is really funny at times. Brooks finds a way to work some of his legendary bits into the picture. I don’t want to describe and ruin them, but I had always heard of them and it was great to see them performed at last. Sure, it felt like padding, but it’s very funny padding.
There’s also a great performance by Sheetal Sheth as Maya, the assistant. The character may be the usual wide-eyed innocent who idolizes our main character, but Sheth plays it to near perfection. She brings such energy and charm to the screen that I hardly realized her character is given very little to do. I just enjoyed having her in our company (much like Isla Fisher in WEDDING CRASHERS).

So Brooks fans, it looks like we’ll have to wait and see what’s next. LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD is no masterpiece, not even close. But I recommend it as a rental. Kind of like the remake of THE STEPFORD WIVES, if you can look past the bad story and just enjoy the jokes, there is a decent amount of fun to be had.


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