Albert Brooks is funny. Even when he's in not so great stuff (like The In-Laws or Doctor Doolittle) he's enjoyable, and when he's in great stuff (say, Finding Nemo or Out of Sight), he's damn near sublime. So his new film, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, is worth seeing for him alone, if nothing else. At least there's that.
Brooks also directs Comedy, and basically plays himself—e.g., his character's name is Albert Brooks, and he's a respected comedian who has a hard time getting good roles. Brooks' character—after failing to net the lead in a Harvey remake—is summoned by the US government, and with a ludicrous but great plot hook, it's declared that in order to better understand Muslims and Hindus the government is going to send Brooks to India and Pakistan to write a 500-page report on what makes people over there laugh.
As funny as it is, Comedy is... well, not so great. Its self-consciously goofy premise holds up fine until the latter half of the film, when a couple of weird subplots—which feel both overly dramatic and weirdly polemic—rear up. Just like his character in the film—who constantly worries about how he's going to come up with 500 pages of material—Brooks seems to be padding out much of Comedy. (And—aside from Brooks' sweet and gorgeous assistant, Maya [Sheetal Sheth], Brooks delves only shallowly into any Indian or Pakistani characters—which really does make them all seem humorless and alien.)
That said, if there's one guy worth watching work with a great concept/negligible screenplay, it's the hilarious Brooks, whose low-key, morose goofiness, and sharp, self-deprecating sarcasm renders him both loveable and identifiable. As a representative of the US in a strange land, Brooks fumbles and sweats, furrows his brow and hedges his bets; it's hard to think of a more good-hearted but culturally oblivious ambassador. Brooks might fail at figuring out what makes people in the Muslim world laugh, but he knows exactly what makes us laugh.