Writer-director Albert Brooks explores a premise that doesn't invite sharp satire or enough humor in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
Not to say that his mockumentary can't persuade some laughs or derision from the outlook on terrorism in a post-9/11 world. Some may find the settings in India and Pakistan to be adrift from the Middle East, though apparently a lot of Muslims dwell there. It may be the case of not delivering on expectations in sensitizing the enigma of people really not being the same all over the world.
Brooks has Penny Marshall playing her (director) self to humiliate a film actor (Albert Brooks) known for his loving paternal fish in Finding Nemo. Thespian's casting director and Marshall won't let him star in a remake of Harvey, the James Stewart vehicle which has some amusing edge to it.
The State Department gives the unemployed actor a mission to complete for the Commander-In-Chief, leaving behind his eBay-loving wife (Amy Ryan) and daughter in their spacious abode. The idea to be done, presented in a 500-page report, is to what is humorous for Muslims, in a trek to India and Pakistan.
With fairly inefficient State Department reps (John Carroll Lynch, Jon Tenney) on board, Brooks ends up in a dreary office beside a New Delhi call center.
Sheetal Sheth is Maya, a perky Hindu assistant (with an Iranian boyfriend) to help the actor who hits the streets and performing stand-up comedy, with a spin on the notion of knowing who the audience is.
When Brooks can't get a visa, Pakistan looks like a dead end, but the handlers somehow sneak him over to a clandestine rendevous with local comedic hopefuls who find him a howl - as his routines are interpreted.
The writing sometimes shows some flair as the Arab TV news channel Al-Jazeera backers help pitch him for a role in a new sitcom, "That Darn Jew", where a Jewish-American relocates into a Muslim world.
But, the assignment ultimately may lead to know definitive answer with international diplomacy not felt with the kind of dark wit that Brooks tries to inject in it. Always willing to take a few stabs at himself, Brooks seems to be on to the global melting pot, his investigating having as much fun with the Americans as those from India and Pakistan.
While pleasant enough and decently paced, this look at many with varying religious beliefs has some bright, bohemian expression when it comes to dialogue and situations. It just doesn't comedically make good like it should, though there is a travelogue quality that is eye-catching, particularly for those who've never seen the Taj Mahal.