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Review: Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Critical consensus of Albert Brooks' latest has not been kind. This seems a bit strange, given that the title of the film, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, lends itself so well to humorous mistitling, a practice that's life-giving insulin to most critics. I swear I've read this about twenty times now: "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World? More like looking for comedy in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World!" Oh ho.

Naturally, we the review-reading audience clutch our sides and gasp for breath at the delicious moxie of our nation's critics. Nevertheless, is the film any good? If Looking for Comedy's RottenTomatoes.com rating is any indication (a less-than-respectable 42% as of this writing): No, it' not. Similarly, if any of the people I went and saw the film with on Friday were any indication (one of whom fell asleep; another of whom started checking her watch at the hour mark, every ten minutes until the credits): No, it' quite bad. In fact, if the American movie-going audience is any indication, whose passion to ignore Looking for Comedy has been so resolute that it's made just over $400,000 so far, this film barely covered the cost of ass wear-and-tear on theater seats.

I say: To hell with those guys. I am not a sheep, sir. So, what did I think? I invite you to make drumroll motorboat noises with your mouth while I parrot back the overall consensus that Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World isn't very good.

Here's the thing: Even genuinely hilarious people like Eddie Murphy or Steve Martin have demonstrated their shelf life as relevant comedians with vast piles of filmic stool after they've hit their fifties. Where this leaves a mid-level talent like Albert Brooks, whose work exclusively attracts people who find Albert Brooks being self-absorbed for an hour and a half irretreivably hilarious, is anyone's guess. What's an actor's next move when their best work is behind them, and it wasn't really all that fantastic to begin with?

If you're Albert Brooks, it evidently means that you keep churning out variations of your first movie, hoping one of them will eventually be your Citizen Kane. Hence Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, the latest installment in Brooks' time-worn Nebbishy Comic Wrings His Hands About Something While an Actress Far Out of His League Inexplicably Falls For Him premise.

That Looking for Comedy so closely resembles Albert Brooks' Every Other Movie is forgivable; that it cheats us of the premise of the title in doing so is less so. An audience paying money to see a film called Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World should, I think, expect to see a comedian looking for comedy, perhaps even in the Muslim world. Brooks confounds these expectations by saying nothing of relevance about cultural differences, comedy, xenophobia or any of the other touchstones one might expect from something with a title like this, content instead to drive the plot right up his plothole with a lot of jokes about his career stalling. Hilarious! This, to me, has always been Albert Brooks' Achilles heel, and proof that the man would be better served writing movie premises than self-directed vehicles: He has a knack for luring you in with an intriguing idea, then ignoring it in favor of another self-inflicted colonoscopy.

I'm reminded of Defending Your Life, another Brooks film with the intriguing premise of afterlife-as-Law & Order, where the recently deceased prove their worth in purgatorial court, with the help of a movie screen projecting snippets of their lives. If you think this sounds like a neat premise, you'll understand why I rented it; if you expected that Defending Your Life would deliver on any of the expectations of its premise, you're unaware what an Albert Brooks movie is (I wish we could switch places). In an all-too-typical scene, Brooks' character enters the afterlife and is told he is free to enjoy purgatory' nightlife before his appearance in court. Available to him is a museum explaining all of the secrets of the universe and a pavilion where he' free to browse through his many past lives. Brooks' character then spends the night at a bad comedy club, wringing his hands about something while an actress far out of his league inexplicably falls for him. You just want to slap him and never stop.

Ditto Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, in which Brooks' character is tasked by the U.S. government with gaining an understanding of Muslim culture and their appreciation of comedy, then goes to India (not the Muslim culture the audience was led to expect) and wrings his hands about something while an actress far out of his league inexplicably falls for him. Then the film ends — abruptly, to the degree where you're left wondering if they simply ran out of money while filming (but nonetheless thankful you're now free to put on your coat and leave).

I'd like to tell you that this is a poor addition to Albert Brooks' ouevre, but in truth it's just a very typical one, indistinguishable from so many of his other vehicles. If you're enough of a diehard Brooks fan that this sounds enticing, you were doubtless one of the five people in the audience at the showing I saw, and this review isn't doing you any favors. If you're among the majority of the American populace that decided not to see the film, I don't expect you to stop anytime soon.

So who is this review actually helping? My hope is Albert Brooks. Mr. Brooks, if you're reading: On behalf of America, we understand that you're anxious and nervous socially. Thank you for that. Now if you make one more movie explaining this to us while attempting to bag an actress half your age, we'll bury the rest of you up your ass so it can keep your head company, and you can title your next movie Grotesque Pretzel-Man Looks for Surgeons in the Medical World. Seriously: Just. Stop.

Review bonus: Since I wouldn't be doing my job as a reviewer if I didn't offer a few delectable pullquotes for RottenTomatoes.com, here are a few gems I've been polishing up. Try this one: "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World? More like a big pile of shit!"

Hmm. No, that wasn't half as witty as it sounded in my head. How about: "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World? More like looking for comedy in Looking for Comedy in the..."

Shit. Now I'm doing it.

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