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"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World"

Directed by Albert Brooks.
Written by Albert Brooks.
Starring Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth, Jon Tenney and John Carroll Lynch.

Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  1/20/06

Folks--

I got a freebie to catch the new Albert Brooks comedy "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World", and then I got to thinking as I was standing in line:

Why does the world even like Albert Brooks so much?

I mean, he seems like a nice enough guy, and even though he's made some films that are good, I don't know if I think enough of Albert Brooks IN those films that makes me believe him to be a comedian of any real talent.  Regardless, Brooks has hung around the game for a long time; over 30 years, about 20 flicks, most of which were average with the exception of "Mother", "Broadcast News" or maybe "Defending Your Life", which by most accounts are good, if not great, motion pictures.  Yeah, he even got an Oscar nomination for the work in "Broadcast News", but certainly no one these days thinks enough of the guy to cast him in an important part with Oscar chances.  When a friend of mine asked me recently what the most famous work was that Brooks had done, I honestly had no idea what to say.

But, even if you hate Mr. Brooks, you have to admit that the idea for his latest film is a funny one--playing himself, the film follows Brooks as he is sitting at home in L.A. one day when he receives a certified letter from the government requesting he make an appearance at the Department of State ASAP to discuss a "situation."  Eager to make sure he's not being investigated for randomly visiting an Al Qaeda website, Brooks arrives (at the real-life Department of Agriculture building, not the movie version Department of State, which drew whistles from the knowledgeable D.C. crowd in attendance) to learn why he has really been invited to meet with government officials:

A special committee wants Brooks to visit India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh.  He will be sent immediately for a month with two government assistants (Jon Tenney and John Carroll Lynch) who will help him draft a 500-page report to help understand the Muslim people.  Brooks agrees to take the project, which takes him to India where he will have to hire a competent assistant to take notes for him and act as a translator.  Once Maya, the assistant (played by Sheetal Sheth), is on-board, it's off to meet many of the people of India to find out what makes them tick by doing street interviews and hosting a comedy show.

This flick does have some pretty good laughs, thanks to killer throwaway shots like the sequences where Brooks comes into his office in India, only to hear in the neighboring office a chop shop where various U.S. firms have hired Indian help to service their products and/or phone systems ("Dell Computer, what seems to be the problem?" or "The White House...how may I direct your call?").  Brooks' deadpan delivery works throughout, as does the constant banter between Brooks and his worthless government help.  The cut of the film we had was not centered correctly, so in lowering the print too far we had boom shots constantly appearing in our viewing range, which made the film look at times like a student film.

What makes up for that are the stunning shots of India, as the film looks to have been shot mainly abroad and is beautifully photographed; sometimes, just shots of Indian signboards were cool to me.  Sure, the movie version of Brooks' wife and child (played here by Amy Ryan and Emma Lockhart, respectively) are way too good-looking for a man of Brooks'...caliber, and the assistant is the hottest woman we see during the India sequence.  But, all of that is okay if there are laughs, and yes, there are money.

What else takes away from the overall experience?  Over-the-top silly stuff, like when Albert and his entourage miss the Taj Mahal despite being right next to it for ten minutes; the staged comedy show, which even in translation wasn't too funny at all; and, the ending of the flick, which kind of disappoints.

Overall, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" was fun, not great, just a funny time at the movies.  You'll hear no one walking out of the theater talking about Brooks' greatness; rather, this one a great Saturday activity if you've got some time to burn between naps.  Enjoy!

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09