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LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
U.S. Release Date: January 20, 2006
Distributor: Warner Independent
Director: Albert Brooks
Writer: Albert Brooks
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Albert Brooks, Amy Ryan
Running Time: 1 hour and 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (drug content and brief strong language)

Brooks Finds Laughs in Extended Sketch
by Scott Holleran

Albert Brooks's latest motion picture, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, finds more than a few laughs, especially early in the movie. Mr. Brooks is among the funniest people working in pictures—writing, directing and starring—and, though Looking is as spotty as everything else he's done, it's better than most of what they're calling comedy today.

In mock-documentary style, the Jewish comedian, as himself, is recruited by the U.S. government to visit India to gather information on what makes Moslems laugh. Mr. Brooks points out that India's population is mostly Hindu, not Moslem, but logic does not stop the feds from wasting money.

Besides, Mr. Brooks is wowed by the prospect of a Congressional Medal of Honor, promised by committee chairman Fred Thompson, in spite of having to produce a 500-page report. He arrives in India, gets assigned a couple of useless Washington types and a rundown office, and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World gets down to funny business.

With a telemarketing boiler room down the hall—a hilarious gag for anyone who's used a telephone in the last five years—and a parade of job applicants who want to be his assistant, he finally hires an intelligent young woman named Maya (Shateel Sheth) and starts hunting for humor among the locals. Mr. Brooks doesn't overplay his hand, peppering the material with subtle digs at his fame and informed cultural humor about Jews, Islam and India.

Of course, this is a politically neutral comic who has made a career out of using prickly topics and, while it never achieves its promise, Looking is no exception. Part of the fun is knowing that Mr. Brooks doesn't really care what makes Moslems laugh—he wants a medal and maybe a cold beer.

Anyway, 90 minutes with Albert Brooks—whose Lost in America, Mother and Defending Your Life are hilarious extended skits—is bound to tickle. He dons local duds and curly Aladdin shoes—that ought to incite the ayatollahs and the White House spin doctors for Islam—and, in the movie's only plot point, he performs a standup routine in front of an Indian audience. He flops.

In the second half of the movie, a nighttime border crossing into Pakistan that leads to heightened territorial tensions takes over, shiftless bureaucrats mill about, and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World stretches into another sketch in Mr. Brooks' repertoire.

With jokes that assume too much and don't link up, it's far from perfect and the concept doesn't totally work as cinema, but Albert Brooks offers good, friendly humor and the usual clever flashes.


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