Writer, director, and actor Albert Brooks says he wrestled for years with the idea of exploring the ways the world has changed since September 11, 2001, calling it the "700-pound gorilla sitting in my comedy office saying, 'Deal with this, find a way.'" Apparently, that big ape eventually evolved into a Big Idea, because the concept for Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is a great one. While the film doesn't always live up to the potential of its premise, it gets high marks (and some good laughs) for even trying.
The movie opens with Brooks (playing an obtuse version of himself) in an awkward casting meeting with Penny Marshall (playing an abrasive edition of herself). Brooks confides he's "looking for that next great acting role," and Marshall makes it clear that he's NOT what she's looking for. The scene, complete with jabs at the actor's previous work and the suggestion that perhaps he is washed-up, is quintessential Brooks, and it sets the tone of self-deprecation that will elicit laughter from some, and groans from others, throughout the movie.
Dejected, Brooks heads home and discovers a registered letter from the U.S. government. Afraid he's been busted for visiting an Al Qaeda website ("just once, out of curiosity, for 15 minutes"), Brooks is pleasantly surprised to discover he's being courted by the State Department. Enthusiastically encouraged by his wife, the work-hungry comedian travels to Washington, D.C. to meet with a special commission chaired by actor and former senator Fred Dalton Thompson (played, rather convincingly, by actor and former senator Fred Dalton Thompson). Thompson tells Brooks that the government recognizes its need to move beyond just the "usual stuff"—spying and fighting—in ...1