However deep the divide currently separating the Middle East from the West appears to be, there's at least one thing we can all agree on: Albert Brooks isn't all that funny anymore. Poignantly, no one seems to know this better than Brooks himself, who follows up THE MUSE — in which he played a once-popular screenwriter so desperate for inspiration he starts taking career advice from Sharon Stone — with this lame topical comedy. Brooks again plays a version of himself, a once-popular comic-turned-filmmaker who's finding it hard to land that one great part his career so desperately needs. Penny Marshall, looking for someone to star in her remake of HARVEY, can hardly believe her casting agent would even consider taking a meeting with the star of the recent IN-LAWS remake debacle. Luckily, Brooks is fated to answer a higher calling when he's contacted by the U.S. State Department and flown to Washington for an important meeting with senator-turned-actor-turned-commission-head Fred Dalton Thompson (who also stars as himself, sort of). Thompson tells Brooks that the White House has decided it's high time we better understood Muslims, and what better inroad to the Islamic mind-set than to study what, exactly, makes them laugh. Brooks' mission, if he chooses to accept it (and there's a Medal of Freedom in it for him if he does) is to travel first to India (no matter that it's mostly a Hindu country), then to Pakistan, and determine what passes for funny in the Muslim world. With two semicompetent State Department agents (John Carroll Lynch, Jon Tenney) at his side, Brooks flies to New Delhi, sets up shop in a crummy two-room office next to a noisy call center (which, in one of the film's rare moments of wit, fields outsourced customer-service calls for everyone from Gap to the White House), hires a pretty, non-Muslim assistant (Sheetal Sheth), and sets about his task. Finding humor in the Muslim world, however, isn't going to be easy: Most of the people he randomly approaches on the street (women included) are apparently humorless, and there aren't any comedy clubs where Brooks can study native comedians at work. Undeterred, Brooks has a brainstorm: He'll stage his own show, invite as many Muslims as the place will hold and haul out every comic shtick that he can think of, from his old ventriloquism act to improv, and see what they laugh at — if they laugh at all. Next to oral surgery without anesthetic, nothing is more painful than watching a comic bomb on stage, but if bomb he must, then Brooks is the right choice. Bits that may have once had the audience rolling in the aisles are now so past their expiration date they lack any flavor whatsoever. Worse, for all his satirical, self-deprecating humor, Brooks' attitude toward cultural difference is embarrassingly smug. Someone revoke this guy's visa, quick.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: However deep the divide currently separating the Middle East from the West appears to be, there's at least one thing we can all agree on: Albert Brooks isn't all that funny anymore. Poignantly, no one seems to know this better than Brooks himself, who foll… (more)