LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD — ** 1/2 — Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth, John Carroll Lynch; with English subtitles for some Middle Eastern dialects; rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, ethnic slurs, brief drugs).
Albert Brooks plays himself in "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," a mockumentary of sorts that has the comedian/filmmaker trying to make a mostly Indian audience laugh, but his act bombs.
The material in the film itself doesn't quite bomb, though it doesn't really kill either. In fact, whether you find any of it funny probably depends on your penchant for Brooks' offbeat humor.
Brooks' other writing/directing efforts include "Defending Your Life" and "Mother," and "Looking for Comedy in a Muslim World" does have a few hysterically funny bits early on. But on the whole, it's likely to elicit appreciative smiles more than belly laughs.
Still, give Brooks credit for trying to make a comedy that's subtler than most — and for making one that actually tries to say something about the state of the world in which we live.
The movie finds Brooks looking for film work; in the opening scenes, he's being interviewed by filmmaker Penny Marshall for a remake of "Harvey." But it doesn't go well, and to his surprise, he's approached by State Department officials.
As it turns out, they want him to go to the Middle East on a fact-finding mission — to discover what makes Muslims laugh. They also want him to compile a 500-page report about the trip.
Enticed by the promise of possible national honors (including a medal), he agrees. Accompanied by two State Department underlings (John Carroll Lynch and Jon Tenney), Brooks heads to India first, where he gets a lucky break when Maya (Sheetal Sheth), a too-willing student, agrees to be his secretary and translator.
But the locals aren't very cooperative or open with their answers to his questions, so he decides to put on a free concert of some of his stand-up material — as a comedy "test" of sorts.
Brooks makes light of his cluelessness about the region and his status as an "Ugly American," and a running gag about a telephone-answering center is particularly amusing. Yet the film is never as funny as it promises to be. A subplot about Maya and her possessive boyfriend (Homie Doroodian) doesn't work any better than a go-nowhere bit about Tenney as a ladies man.
"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" is rated PG-13 for scattered use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word) and ethnic slurs, some crude references and humor, and some brief drug content (use of and references to hashish). Running time: 98 minutes.