I really do think that in about ten years or so, we'll all have a good chance to reevaulate Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Albert Brooks's admirable and monstrously flawed attempt to show that we're all not so different, after all. Because it's really two movies: one is a film about narcissism, culture shock and the creative process, and one is a jaw-droppingly unfunny comedy that tries with no success to engage itself politically. I don't think anybody who watches the film will be interested in the first of those two choices, and we have no-one to blame for that but the director, who clearly views this as his important social message.

A pity, because there's a lot of good in it. Albert Brooks plays "Albert Brooks," a comic filmmaker/actor whose career has stalled since his disastrous performance in the remake of The In-Laws. The federal government, looking for insight into the mind of the Muslim people, hires him to go to India and Pakistan to determine what they find humourous. The rest of the film largely consists of Brooks trying to make various Muslims and Hindus laugh, and becoming increasingly rattled when they don't.

The plot is a distraction at best, a liability at worst, and this is where Brooks's desire to make a timely political piece hurts. His attempts at satire are too juvenile and broad to strike. And the last twenty minutes or so of the film are embarassing.

The key to enjoying the experience, then, is to sit back and remember that this is an Albert Brooks film. And once I thought about it in that context, it was a lot more satisfying, although still the least-interesting of the seven films he has written and directed. In that sense, this is the story of a minor filmmaker's monstrous ego (the character "Brooks," that is; Brooks the man is obviously poking fun at himself), and his tremendous blindness about other cultures. As a satire of the War on Terror it fails, but as a satire of Ugly Americanism, it's much better - there's a fun little scene when Brooks is so absorbed in a cell phone conversation, he literally walks past the Taj Mahal without noticing it.

"Brooks" is so convinced of his own skill as a comedian that he never stops to consider the audience. The set piece of the film is a disastrously unsuccessful comedy concert in New Delhi, where every gag he pulls out is tied to American culture (and even then, the gags are pretty deliberately unfunny). Brooks blames everything but himself (including the audience, a primary comedy no-no), but the payoff comes much later: when he performs the same routine in front of Pakistani comedians, he takes full credit for his rousing success, ignoring the fact that they were utterly stoned. The character is completely obsessed with validation and success.

Which is why I think that the film will likely improve with age. Eventually, we'll be out of our current Middle Eastern adventure, and at that point we can appreciate this for what it can offer: a nimble parody of excessive celebrity vanity and entitlement. At his worst, Brooks is still a fine comic actor and writer, and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't laugh often. So yeah, in a decade, this might be one of his greatest efforts.

But right now, not. 6/10