A new Albert Brooks film should, by all accounts, be cause for fireworks and lots of prolonged whooping. The writer-director's patented blend of faux-narcissism and insufferableness made him the architect for today's popular "cringe comedy," and when Brooks has a meaty subject in his sights—the end of the Me Decade in Modern Romance (1981), yuppie-boomer culture in Lost in America (1985)—you won't find a flat-out funnier satirist.
Armed with an inspired set-up, his latest film looks to dismantle ugly Americanism and bomb-first foreign policy with equal sharpness. Rather than dealing with the Islamic fundamentalists via "spying and fighting...y'know, the normal things," the U.S. has decided to send the unemployed Brooks out to see what makes your average Muslim laugh. So the comedian starts gallivanting through India with his new personal assistant (Sheth), trying to gauge whether those who worship Allah prefer sophisticated intellectual humor or plain ol' Polish jokes. Guffaws aplenty seem all but guaranteed.
But while Brooks starts out strong with digs at imperialism and outsourcing, there's a deflating feeling that he's exhausted the comic potential of his us-versus-them premise a half hour into the film. Some reprises of classic bits from his stand-up days, notably an incompetent ventriloquism routine, make for pleasant reminders of his genius, yet those greatest-hits moments can't enliven what starts to resemble a Bombay travelogue peppered with short skits. (Opens Fri; see Now playing for venues.)