When I recently expressed hope that the upcoming Albert Brooks joint Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World might be funny, an unimpeachable source whom I can now identify as Reason's own Brian Doherty warned that the movie was so bad it probably wouldn't be released. That opinion has since been seconded by Ben Schwartz, who notes: "Forget what makes Muslims laugh; why isn't he making me laugh?" Doherty's prediction appears to be coming true, as Sony Pictures fobs the movie off on a rival. Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times laments the release troubles:
The movie makes fun of comedians' neurotic neediness and State Department ineffectuality, but seems to steer clear of anything that would insult Muslims. Still, in a June 30 letter to Brooks, Sony chairman Michael Lynton said that he wouldn't release the film unless Brooks changed the title. Lynton wrote: "I do believe that recent incidents have dramatically changed the landscape that we live in and that this, among other things, warrants changing the title of the film." Sony insiders say Lynton was alarmed by the violent reaction in the Muslim world to Newsweek's May 9 story, since retracted, about a Koran being flushed down the toilet by interrogators at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay…
Lynton won't discuss the issue publicly…
Brooks, in his first interview about the film, confirmed that Lynton expressed concern about Muslim outrage over the alleged Koran incident. "When we spoke, he told me, 'The Newsweek thing has changed the world.' And I said, 'Wasn't it 9/11 that changed the world?' But Michael said he just didn't want to take a chance."
While Goldstein calls the picture "inspired," neither he nor anybody else in this piece addresses the question of whether it's funny. My sources say the premise is indeed strong, but that the execution, in which, among other things, Brooks plays cupid to a winsome Indian translater and her boyfriend, is a failure every step of the way; special objections are raised to Brooks' setting the picture in India rather than Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. I speculate that the title brouhaha is a convenient one-cheek-sneak that allows Sony to rid itself of a stinker.
Warner Independent Pictures has picked up the title, promising a release "early next year." Says Doherty, "I believe that too will change."
Another interesting tidbit: Looking was financed by Steve Bing; is he aiming to shave the child support he has to pay to Liz Hurley? They're right about the title, though: It's starting to look like that's the only laugh in the picture. Maybe it's better to leave the film as a great might-have-been in the Brooks canon, which looks less impressive with every new movie he comes out with. (I say that with regret, as I think anybody would be proud to hang his hat on the trilogy of Real Life, Modern Romance, and Lost In America.)