'Just Like Us' review: Good intentions don't equal useful information

RedEye movie critic

** (out of four)

Few would disagree that many Americans aren’t overflowing with knowledge about Arabs or Muslims. Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed (who directed this doc) wants to counter people’s stereotypes that, say, Arabs are serious all the time, so he goes on a tour (with Maz Jobrani, Whitney Cummings and others) to places like Dubai, Beirut and Riyadh to see how the Middle East likes to laugh. Cue onstage material exclusively tied to nationality and religion.

The buzz: Six years ago, Albert Brooks made a silly movie called “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” which commented more on American foolishness than what people in India do or don’t believe. At the least Ahmed’s film should be better than “Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show” (in which Ahmed appeared), a doc that perceived smug, obvious material as original and hilarious.

The verdict: Perhaps Ahmed would learn more if he talked to more people who weren’t his friends or family. It’s interesting to hear commentary from aspiring young Arab comedians and older folks who have no respect for that line of work, but this documentary doesn’t discuss the cultural foundations that might reject comedy or why Westerners would be ignorant toward this region and its beliefs. “Just Like Us” turns a mild cultural expose into a brief, personal travel piece that provides neither laughs nor enlightenment. Surely there was enough of a story to tell that it would have taken more than 70 minutes to do so?

Did you know? One comic notes that 10 Arabic words are needed to explain the concept of stand-up comedy. How many are needed to discuss a comic who is just not funny?

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