Published Dec 01, 2005There's no doubt Albert Brooks can make people laugh; a stand-up sequence in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World proves he's a gut-busting heavyweight. It's his writing that needs improving.
In Looking…, the U.S. government sends Brooks to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslim people laugh. Fresh jabs at standard targets had a room full of critics laughing at my screening, and the first act is so tightly written you begin to suspect you're witnessing near-perfection.
And then it happens, just like it happens in all films that don't quite work. Believability breaks down like an old jalopy, usually due to a blind spot in the script. In the case of Looking, it's a recurring joke that stops paying off long before Brooks stops using it.
When briefed on his assignment, Brooks is told he must submit a 500-page report of his findings. He neurotically complains that even in school, he wasn't good at writing long papers, and throughout the film, everyone from cab drivers to rogue rebels tell him not to sweat the page count. He forcefully drives the joke through the script, assured it's still getting laughs long after it dies. When he uses it as a reason to put his own life in danger, it becomes ridiculous.
As a result, his ending doesn't work. Though you understand why it should be funny, it simply isn't, and not only because of his long-deceased joke. Brooks is dealing with politically-charged material, and the film's big punch line is truly insensitive; he betrays his own ironic take on humour's universality by pushing the boundaries of good taste. So unless you want to watch a good script go bad, avoid Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. It's a lemon. (Warner Independent)