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Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

August 19th, 2007 by Maxim · No Comments · 3,307 Views


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A struggling actor/comedian Albert Brooks, played by a comedian Albert Brooks (The Simpsons Movie, The in-laws, Doctor Dolittle, Taxi Driver, Real Life, Lost in America etc.), receives a letter from the State Department. First he thinks he’s going to jail for checking out Al Qaeda website on the Internet (same fears people in USSR had for 70 years), but turns out that the president created a commission with the goal to better understand Muslim people, their culture and in particular – what makes Muslims laugh. He’s required to write a 500 page report (minimum) and they didn’t offer to pay much, but they did offer the Medal of Freedom – after all he’d be doing a great service for his country. The president [in this movie] believes that one of the tactics of dealing with the middle east in the post September 11 world would be to promote understanding. In fact, the first and maybe the only good laugh of the movie is delivered when the Senator Fred Dalton Thompson (plays himself) said, “Our president has a great sense of humor”. Penny Marshall plays herself here too.

What starts as a fun assignment, hits some bumps on the road – beginning from the airplane seats assignment to coach instead of 1st class, to a really bad office that his two government-assigned helpers could find, to renting an auditorium for a comedy show without bathrooms, to failure by Brooks’s handlers to get visas into Pakistan, so they have to sneak across the border at night, which gets him accused of sparking a nuclear crisis between India and Pakistan – ala “Doctor Strangelove”? “India has been building up the presence in the area. We move to Level Tree!”.

Brooks wrote and directed this movie. It’s humorous and funny, but only mildly so. It ignores the religious, Muslim part of the trip and focuses on culture and humor of both countries instead. The fact that most of the movie is set in India and not the Middle East will raise the eyebrows – where’s the Muslim world here? India does have a large Muslim minority, but they aren’t in the movie.

The film often borders politically incorrect. What do you think of this dialog, for example:
- “What can you know about comedy – there are no comedy clubs in Iran!”.
- “I was the funniest one in school… And the funniest one in explosives training!”.
For a movie that was supposed to destroy stereotypes, it seems to make the stereotype stronger with dialogs like this.

It’s not very provocative though. Probably the most politically incorrect part of the movie could’ve been when Brooks visits Al-Jazeera (the Arab TV news network, in case you didn’t know), and receives a role in a new sitcom, “The Darn Jew”. I guess it’s a reverse satire: how many sitcoms have depicted Muslims as fanatical suicide bombers? It’s a satire about Western stereotypes. In your face, America!

I was rather painful to see an American comedian struggle to get laughs in the comedy club – nobody’s laughing. I guess adding to my pain was the skipping DVD. Even his mini-celebrity status as the voice of father-fish in “Finding Nemo” doesn’t help. We actually never get to find out what makes Muslims, or anyone else, laugh. It may actually be the point of the movie – people of the world can not be pigeon-holed so easily – there is no single formula. Brooks’s assistant was very good as an actress and a character – she shines the light on the picture with her optimism and beauty. I liked the Brooks’s assistant job applicants. Musical score by Michael Giacchino was very good too. Even though I didn’t laugh much at this mock-documentary, it’s a very likable movie nevertheless. Could’ve been better though. The teaser trailer showed the best parts of the movie.

The deleted scenes on DVD were funny. Especially the scene in the taxi with a former New York taxi-driver.

Sony didn’t want to release the picture, so Warner Pictures picked it up.

“There’s no business like show business”.

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Rated 3/5 on Aug 19 2007
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Tags: Comedy · DVD · Movies

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