Brooking the Muslim World


"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World"? Keep looking; Albert Brooks hasn't found it.

Certainly, his current so-called comedy is bereft of it. Maybe it's hidden under one of the barkas the characters of the film wear.

What "Comedy" does is wearisome. Based on the premise that the best way to disarm the enemy is to nuke 'em with nuggets of laughs (nuclear WMD is replaced by a comical WMD – Wit, Mirth and anecDotes), Brooks – playing Brooks as only he can play him, as a sharp-witted schlub – is dispatched to India and Pakistan for some glad-handing glasnost, Muslim-style.

Okay, the fact that he's Jewish – certainly, Brooks wasn't the State Department's first choice, says mission mahaf Fred Dalton Thompson playing himself in a stroke of great casting that provides some sense of law and order to the film – may not exactly be helpful. But then, sending a non-Jewish comic would be akin to sending a gilt-edged gift without the real guilt: What could be more hilarious than a hapless Brooks playing to a Hindu crowd? (So India has more Hindus than Muslims; still the State Department's heart was in the right place – physically, if not geographically. And if they do make mistakes, not being able to differentiate between a silo barn and a silly barnstormer, well, it is fictional, after all.)

High humor it's not. But then again … when Brooks hooks up with an audience high on a hookah that sends his spirits – and sense of balance – soaring, it does weed out the lamer set-ups. And there is the scene in which his desperate search for an assistant leads to a highly qualified woman who turns him down because he's Jewish.

Maybe he should be looking for the ADL instead.

What "Looking for …" finds is what many other Brooks films have discovered; the actor/writer/director is so self-indulgent, he doesn't know when the joke's run its course, when a punchline devolves into a slap schtick. Brooking the Muslim world is no different.

Of course, who else but Brooks could get away with a title like the one affixed to his film? (Warners Independent picked up the movie reportedly after the title scared off some other distributors.)

The very idea of seeking comedy in India and Pakistan … But, then, President Bush – in a mind-meld of mythical proportions – has just announced that he, too, will be visiting the very same countries – India and Pakistan – in March.

"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" … wait until next month; maybe there's hope after all.



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