Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Looking for comedy in an American theater

I had hopes that Albert Brooks' latest might fulfill my quest, but, despite what the guy two rows in front of me thought (no film deserves 50 guffaws), I remain desperate. Almost willing myself to enjoy it, I ended up falling asleep, awakened only by the lone guffawer.

If you've seen "Real Life," "Lost in America" and, to a lesser extent, "Defending Your Life," you know that Brooks owns one of comedy's more fertile and original comic minds. If you saw "The Muse," and none of his early work, you probably assume he's a humorless hack. And the casting of Andie McDowell and Sharon Stone was a particularly cruel joke.

But I was intrigued by the concept of "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," and, just a few days after seeing "Match Point," I allowed myself to believe again in second acts. That Brooks' movie was dropped by its original distributor, Sony Pictures --- scared off by the title --- made me even more curious.

Unfortunately, "Looking for Comedy" is about as edgy as your typical "Saturday Night Live" skit (although there are some laughs in Brooks' flick). To make a movie about laughter in the Muslim world requires a willingness to offend. Here, there's not even one mention of "jihad." And that's a funny word.

(No Bush jokes, either. Talk about missed opportunities).

Not that the movie is even about Muslims. Much of it takes place in India; Brooks reasons it would've been too dangerous to film in, say, Saudi Arabia. Might as well have been looking for comedy in the Amazon.

All that aside, it's sad to view the greats past their prime. Pardon the sports analogy, but it's like watching Dale Murphy wrapping up his career in a Colorado Rockies uniform. I wished I had looked the other way.

***Despite my contention that Brooks was afraid to offend, some Muslims are, indeed, offended. Have they earned the right to be so touchy? Make all the jokes you want about the Confederacy ... doesn't bother me a bit.

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