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LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD It’s hard to see how Albert Brooks, that indispensably mad observer of our mad world, could make such a bland, formless pudding out of the fertile premise of what is being erroneously billed (see Team America: World Police, if you must) as the first mainstream movie since 9/11 to mine humor from the East-West divide. Marooned miserably between half-assed situation comedy and a pale ghost of Brooks’ trenchantly self-skewering early satires, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World features Brooks as Albert Brooks, a Hollywood Ugly American (though not nearly ugly enough to make the point), a second-tier actor sent by the U.S. government to South Asia to find out what makes Islamic people laugh. Not much, it turns out, unless you count a bunch of stoned Pakistanis who inflict their own brand of terrorist humor on the hapless entertainer, who has inexplicably been unable to wring so much as a snicker from Indian audiences for his standup show, which consists of antique ventriloquist routines culled from Brooks’ early-career appearances on the Ed Sullivan show and an eye-poppingly ethnocentric lecture on improvisation. Blundering his way across this volatile region, Brooks the narcissistic standup comedian nearly re-ignites the smoldering hostilities between India and Pakistan. Brooks the filmmaker, however, is unlikely to ignite much more than a few faint chortles at some amusing bits of Bangalore-phone-bank business, and an Al-Jazeera effort to cast the comedian in their new series, That Darn Jew. Otherwise, the movie is a fatally benign effort to jolly us out of the post-9/11 blues while studiously avoiding giving offense in Dubai. The question for skittish distributors is not whether Looking for Comedy will play in Peshawar, but how long the movie will take to put Peoria to sleep. (Selected theaters) (Ella Taylor)
UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION was not screened in advance of our publication deadline, but a review will appear here next week and can be found online at www.laweekly.com/film. (Citywide)
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