One mistake one should never make is seeing a movie like this right after seeing a movie like Munich. It will scramble your communication skills completely. Taking advantage of the Ricky Gervaise-inspired craze of comedy through self-immolation (metaphorical), Albert Brooks directs his self-penned trip to a land of self-immolation (literal) to see what makes that culture laugh. That disconnect right there is an indicator that just finding out that someone likes to see animals do stupid pet tricks is not going to bridge the cultural divide.
It’s a government assignment, positioned as a prestigious one, but one that rings falser than false. I had enormous, high hopes for this movie; Albert Brooks is a whipsmart, self-effacing funnyman who can slip his dry wit into the most interesting situations (see: his filmography). However, the end result is a kind of painful, cringeworthy trip to see how a man’s ignorance of his own ineptitude sparks an international incident. You see the potential here, right?
The film does little to enlighten us on what makes Muslims laugh, but it explores fully what would prevent them from laughing (see: Albert Brooks), and is an excellent how-to on designing the perfect flop sweat comedy tour. I don’t know if Brooks’ portrayal of himself was meant to give us the impression that he has no ability or desire to know his audience, but it was frustrating to see a man fail so miserably and be so unaware of it. Gervais’ famous character from the BBC’s The Office series is an unwitting failure but his response to that failure is what makes him strangely endearing. I felt solely embarrassed for Brooks’ character (as did other smaller characters). What was the point of this exercise, exactly if you are only going to ignore your own research?
The film does tread that line between making Muslims (in India and Pakistan) look dour and unpleasant and making them have the good sense not to laugh at his horrifying jokes (which were clearly designed to be horrible, and for that he gets points for manufacturing brilliance.). The problem is that no one learns or changes, except his luminous assistant, who learns about sarcasm. We the audience get a nice lesson in cultural centrism, and some fantastic footage of some amazing places, but Brooks is the machine driving this thing, we have to want to follow him and we just can’t get inspired to.
The fact that his innocent experiment escalates into an international incident says more (and probably inaccurately) about the instability in that region than our Western failure to understand them. The comedy that exists is the hubristic voyeurism of watching him fail, and some repeated but continually funny jokes about outsourcing customer service phone centers. Everything in the movie that is not about comedy is actually pretty funny (his beginning meeting in Hollywood, missing the Taj Mahal) but unfortunately, the rest of the movie is about comedy.
“whether it was supposed to or not, it still falls flat.”
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/20/06
Time in minutes 98
Director Albert Brooks
Studio Warner Independent Pictures