on January 14, 2006 - 5:01 PM PST
|Your opinion may differ, of course, but when I see Albert Brooks perform, I think I should laugh, but I don't, actually. Some modification of that negative opinion is necessary after today's preview of Brooks' "Looking for
Comedy in the Muslim World," which had me convulse with laughter... but then I ended up finding the movie rather lame.
Sorry if that doesn't sound like thumbs up or down (what is the sound of one thumb... never mind...), but this is a rather complex business, beyond the conclusive use of single digits.
Take the opening scene: Brooks, playing himself, is auditioning for the "Jimmy Stewart role" in a proposed remake of "Harvey." The setup is sheer comic genius. Penny Marshall, as herself, is to be the director of "Harvey II," she dismisses Brooks, malignantly, and Brooks manages to get in a couple of nasties about both Marshall and Stewart. It's all hilarious, and - if sustained - could have made "Looking for Comedy" a success in accomplishing the title's quest.
Then comes the exposition, which is also pretty darn good: the real Fred Dalton Thompson is heading up a government project to find out what makes "other people, those we don't really understand, you know, the Chinese, and Africans... and, especially, Muslims, laugh." Brooks is asked to study laughter in India and Pakistan for one month, and submit a 500-page report.
That's still funny, although when the 500-page requirement is mentioned every couple of minutes through the movie, well, that gets tired, quickly.
Why was he picked, Brooks asks. Thompson minces no words: "Our first choices didn't accept." Tempted with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Brooks does.
When - escorted by two State Department officials - Brooks arrives in New Delhi, he is startled to discover that there are no comedy clubs there, so he cannot gather data conveniently. His solution: to put on a standup show
himself. One of the big problems of the film emerges right there, during this major portion - Brooks' routine is so lame that you sympathize with the Indian audience, staring blankly at the stage. I am not sure if that's deliberate. If it is, *that* is not funny either.
And yet, time and again, there are wonderful nuggets in the film. In the New Delhi building where Brooks has his humble project headquarters, outsourced customer-service offices line the corridors, and every time he passes through, there are snatches of "may I help you" conversations overheard, culminating with people in one office answering the phone: "White House." Yuk, yuk.
If the Indian scene is hit and miss, the brief Pakistani portion is almost all miss, leading up to a "situation," but getting nowhere. The Indian-Pakistani crisis created by Brooks' present is lame, but at the same time, Al-Jazeera network executives' interest in hiring him to play a Jewish
comedian in a new Arab-language sitcom is pure gold. And so it goes, back and forth, until the movie stops, rather than ends. Neither good nor bad, "Looking for Comedy" is very good and, on the whole, pretty bad.