Albert Brooks films are like little treats. They come along every four or five years, and even when they’re not great, they’re worth seeing. If only more people would see them – I feel like Defending Your Life is the last Brooks film that was seen by anything approaching a wide audience. And I fear that Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World won’t be any different.
In this film Albert Brooks plays comedian Albert Brooks, recently re-famous for starring in Finding Nemo. Since then things have been a little tough, and the film opens with him on yet another fruitless audition. His fortunes seem to change, though, when a Congressional committee asks him to travel to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslim people laugh, in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Middle-Easterners.
Brooks’ movies always have great concepts, and this one is no different. The main problem that keeps Looking For Comedy from being a really hilarious film is that it’s often just not funny enough. Brooks seems content to keep things simmering at mildly humorous for long stretches – scenes will evoke a grin but not always a guffaw. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s not to say that there aren’t scenes where the movie is uproariously hilarious. It’s just that at times things are a touch subdued, and often the comedy rides on Brooks’ timeworn neurotic Jew persona.
There are a couple of scenes that will likely be ranked among the funniest of the year when the accounting is due. One has Brooks gathering an audience of Indians and performing his live act, which involves the deconstruction of improv and ventriloquism acts. The performance is classic, as is the reaction of the audience. I was crying and in pain from laughing so much.
Along the way Brooks builds a great bit of satire about American foreign policy, as his good-intentioned efforts bring India and Pakistan to the brink of war. It’s classic comedy fodder, the kind of stuff you’d see in movies from the 30s – but just like movies from the 30s, Looking For Comedy rushes to an ending, never getting very daring with the situation it sets up. I know that Brooks isn’t trying to make some dark, Wag the Dog-style political satire, but the road he goes down is so interesting that it’s disappointing to see him jump off of it in the last few minutes in favor of just getting to the end.
Looking For Comedy ends up being light fare for smarter people – the jokes aren’t about farting or semen. But at times it’s a little too light, and Brooks seems content to let his concept just linger in the background. A much more daring movie could have been made from this idea, and anyone thinking that the film will have much to say about life and comedy post-9/11 will be disappointed.