Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World Movie Review
We begin with Brooks (playing himself) auditioning for a Penny Marshall-directed remake of Harvey. He doesn't get the part, largely because he's "not the next Jimmy Stewart," but he does follow Stewart's lead by heading off to Washington at the request of our government. He's asked to travel to India and Pakistan on a goodwill mission to discover what makes Muslims laugh. Might I suggest he start by looking any place his film isn't screening?
Brooks totes two less-than-helpful agents (John Carroll Lynch and Jon Tenney) and an enthusiastic Indian assistant (Sheetal Sheth, the film's saving grace) on his sojourn. He endlessly frets over the 500-page report he's ordered to produce and conducts fruitless man-on-the-streets interviews to unearth the source of the Muslim sense of humor.
Even those with a taste for Brooks' lethargic delivery will tire of his continuous milking of the self-deprecating routine. He actually starts strong, taking sly jabs at the political system and slipping in subtle references to the outsourcing of America's customer service - one of many jokes Brooks recycles to death. In an effort to maintain the film's reality-television vibe, Muslim rolls miles of tape. Brooks captures irrelevant conversations with his wife and daughter (played by actors), his hotel's staff, and executives at Al-Jazeera (in one of the film's numerous narrative dead-ends).
To be fair, Muslim teaches us a few things. The Three Stooges are funny everywhere. Polish jokes are crude but effective. And Brooks couldn't discover a laugh at a George Carlin concert. The film tries to further a counterproductive plot, sending someone with no sense of humor on a mission to find what makes people laugh. It's akin to sending Fiona Apple to Japan to find out what makes sumo wrestlers so chunky.
The film's centerpiece is a staged concert that's so bad I have to believe it intentionally fails. Brooks runs through select bits from his past routines, taking time to stop and explain each joke - which, if you know a thing or two about stand-up, is always a great way to get laughs. There's no possible way Brooks could have viewed this footage in an editing suite and believed he'd successfully crack audiences up with this act. Most comedians aim to "kill" when they hit the stage. Brooks dies, and takes the whole film down with him.
Nope, no comedy here.
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