When Albert Brooks goes Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, he looks not in the Middle East but in India. That’s not exactly an uproarious joke, but it is amusing and it hints at the movie’s attempt to get at the United States’ unwillingness to see the world as anything but U.S.-centric.

Most of this wry film’s laughs come from earnest people wrong-headedly trying to do the right thing. Brooks is sent to India by the United States, which has stumbled on the not-bad idea that, as former Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson (also playing sorta-himself) tells Brooks, "The only way to really understand somebody is to see what makes them laugh."

The overriding joke in Looking is that Brooks is too self-centered to figure out what amuses anybody who does not inhabit his own body. His mission is doomed not because India is the wrong place (while the country does have a substantial Muslim population, it’s not generally known as Muslim HQ), but because Brooks’ only research is to perform his regular act, with a couple of Gandhi puns added in a lame attempt to curry favor with Indian audiences.

So, when he performs a conceptual bit that hinges on an improv comedian’s unwillingness to follow his audiences’ suggestions, he assumes the audience didn’t get what he was trying to do. We, on the other hand, know the audience did get it and didn’t think it was funny.

If all of this sounds like cerebral comedy, it is. Brooks is not above going for the occasional cheap laugh – thankfully – but he’s not a comic who begs us to love him. If most comedians’ jokes are like the M&Ms resting on top of a cookie, his are more like the cinnamon that subtly flavors the dough.

His attitude seems to be "Look, I have hidden a few jokes in here. Notice them if you want." And, because Looking has the additional oddity of a creator who is playing himself as a hacky goof, it takes awhile to get in the swing of the film.

Once you do, though, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World becomes richer and more satisfying. Especially when you remember that this hacky goof is an official representative of the United States and that he spends a fair amount of time in a foreign land where the only thing he learns is that he looks awful in embroidered PJs.

Grade: B