Still one of the most underrated comedians out there, Albert Brooks has offered his hilariously deadpan delivery in a number of films ("Mother", "Lost In America") and on TV (several terrific "Simpsons" roles, including a brilliant performance as likable supervillain Hank Scorpio.) "Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World" is the first directorial effort from Brooks in 6 years. It's not his best work, but it still manages to get some laughs at times.
The film opens with Brooks (playing Albert Brooks) trying to audition for Penny Marshall, who has just spent the past few minutes before he entered bashing his performance in the 2003 remake of "The In-Laws". Needless to say, Brooks doesn't get the gig. Soon after, he gets a call from the State Department asking if he'd be willing to come meet with them. Afraid of what this could mean, he finds that they're actually looking to find out what makes Muslim people laugh. They've tried wars and spying, now they think they could reach the muslim people with humor. He asks why they chose him instead of one of any number of comedians. They tell him that the other ones on their list were working.
His task is to head to India (which, he notes to the government officials, is mostly Hindus) and write 500 pages (because any less won't justify the expense, according to the officials) on his findings, a task that one of the cab drivers in India agrees seems "a bit excessive." Brooks won't be paid for his time, but he'll earn the "Medal of Freedom". So, he ventures around India, accompanied by a couple of State Department assistants (John Carroll Lynch and Jon Tenney) and an Indian student named Maya (Sheetal Sheth), going up to people and asking them what makes them laugh. Some offer up answers, but others are not so cooperative.
Brooks comes up with an idea to speed the process along: he'll throw a stand-up gig. No comedy clubs? No problem - he'll just go onstage at the local school. The audience doesn't exactly respond well to the jokes - thinking that an "Exorcist" joke didn't work just because the film didn't make it to India, he asks the audience to raise their hands if they've seen the movie - pretty much every hand goes up.
A side trip to Pakistan requires an illegal border crossing in the middle of the night and a performance in front of a group of fans who sit around a campfire and love every single one of the bits that fell flat in front of the prior crowd ...which could be because they're all high at the time. Al Jazeera offers Brooks a potential deal for a sitcom, but when he doesn't accept, they ask if he knows how to get in touch with Seinfeld.
Meanwhile, Brooks continues to worry about the fact that the 500 page report is about 1% done. The comedian is also unaware that the governments of India and Pakistan have become concerned about all of questioning the comedian has doing and both countries worry that spying is going on. Throughout it all, Brooks is Brooks; rather arrogant, but well-meaning and entirely oblivious to what's going on around him. He's sent to communicate with the people of India, but remains more concerned with his own self and own act.
The film is largely a fish-out-of-water comedy, although it occasionally looks into the question of how universal is humor. Still, the movie feels like parts and pieces that are not glued together well enough (a bit involving Maya's boyfriend is a piece that could have been dropped completely) and are never really developed fully by the time the abrupt conclusion (which kind of feels as if the film didn't know quite where to go) rolls around. There's funny moments and several good throwaway bits, but they're a little too few-and-far-between.
Overall, Brooks manages to get some major and minor laughs here, but I was a little surprised that he wasn't able to develop the idea more than he does here.
VIDEO: "Looking For Comedy" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation starts off looking a bit rough, with some mild edge enhancement visible on occasion. Sharpness and detail were usually fine enough, but a little inconsistent, as some parts of the film could look rather soft. Print flaws were not spotted, as the film looked free of any dirt, marks or other wear. Colors looked bright and nicely saturated, with no smearing or other flaws.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation does just fine, offering some minor ambience from the surrounds when needed (such as during the exterior scenes), but otherwise remaining forward-oriented. Audio quality remained pleasing, with crisp dialogue and no issues.
EXTRAS: 4 deleted scenes and the film's trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Looking For Comedy" certainly has moments, but despite a lot of potential, the film never really develops the concept well enough. It's an uneven movie, but Brooks fans should still consider a rental. The DVD offers standard audio/video quality and minimal supplements.
The Film B-