Albert Brooks does comedy that’s so on-target, it doesn’t feel like comedy. In an age where comedians practically beat you over the head with their gags, Brooks’ style is like those old MAD Magazine cartoons that were in the margins of the pages. The funny stuff is in the peripheries.
Brooks’ Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World never made it to any theaters in Jacksonville, FL. (where I live). I’m tempted to say that’s a shame, but it probably wouldn’t have helped Brooks’ cause for it to be released here. (The movie grossed less than $1 million.) But now the movie is available for home viewing, where Brooks fans can appreciate its quiet pleasures.
Brooks plays a fictionalized version of himself, summoned to Washington on a mission. A commission headed by actor-turned-senator Fred Dalton Thompson (also playing himself) wants to try a more thoughtful resolution to the Mid-East conflict. They figure that if Brooks can spend a month in India and Pakistan and learn what makes Muslims laugh, America can make inroads there. Washington would have been far better off sending Adam Sandler.
Brooks thinks the answer is for him to do his old stand-up routine — which, if you know anything about Brooks, made fun of stale comedy cliches. Trouble is, if you don’t know the cliches to start with, it’s pretty hard to enjoy a spoof of them. Thus, we get several shots of Indians waiting to be entertained and instead sitting on their hands.
The movie is not laugh-a-minute, but it does have some hilarious moments and images, most of them centered around how Brooks is too self-absorbed to do Washington much good. He pontificates to a co-worker about comedy while bypassing India’s prominent Taj Mahal. He’s so desperate for laughs that he crosses a border illegally to do stand-up for some hooded Pakistanis sitting around a campfire.
To tell any more of the plot would spoil some of the movie’s best gags. There’s also a lot of “inside” stuff about Brooks’ own movies (he did the father fish’s voice in Finding Nemo) that will sail right past non-Brooks fans. But I don’t think Brooks cares. He arranges his gags like shiny gems on a counter and lets you pick out the good ones.
I loved this movie, but I admit that I smiled at it more often than I outright laughed. But considering the present state of American film comedy, I’m willing to settle for smiles these days.