LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD (Albert Brooks). 98 minutes. Opens Friday (January 20). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Midway through the amusing and inoffensive Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World , writer/director/actor Albert Brooks , basically playing himself, gives us the key to the movie.
Comics, he tells us, don't want to talk about other comics. They just want to talk about themselves. So true. This film should be called Looking For Comedy In Albert Brooks's World.
After a disastrous meeting for a role with director Penny Marshall (deadpan, and terrific), a dejected Brooks gets asked by the government to travel to India and Pakistan to discover what 300 million people find funny.
Flanked by two government agents and a perky Indian assistant, Brooks initially asks people on the street what makes them laugh. No response. Then he gets the great idea to hold a concert in New Delhi - his first stand-up concert in 30 years - to see which jokes fly with the audience.
Meanwhile, in the film's least successful plotline, the governments of India and Pakistan, secretly monitoring Brooks's activities, believe he's some sort of U.S. spy. International tensions escalate.
Brooks, often considered the poor person's Woody Allen, still knows how to set up a joke. The funniest ongoing gag concerns a call centre next to his office in India that dispenses help to everyone from the William Morris Agency to the White House. Brooks also delivers some great one-liners about the navel-gazing entertainment industry.
Some visual jokes - including one at the Taj Mahal - fall flat. And the film has very little emotional range.
If you're a Brooks fan, fine. See it, and by the way, e-mail me after and tell me if you, too, think he's wearing a hairpiece. But if you take the title too seriously, you'll be disappointed.