For the first time since his brilliant debut feature, Real Life (1979), Albert Brooks plays a semifictional character named Albert Brooks, this time a guy who heads an ill-conceived State Department mission to discover what makes people in India and Pakistan laugh. Questioning and mocking himself, he combines personal worries about his dwindling career as a comic performer with more general ones about this country's lack of smarts when it comes to the third world. Filmed mainly in New Delhi, this provocative comedy couldn't be more up-to-date. As usual, Brooks's penchant for realism involves filming from a distance in extended takes and sometimes challenging the viewer to accept him as both an identification figure and a fool--though a softening of his usual obnoxious persona confuses matters a little. With Sheetal Sheth and Fred Dalton Thompson (also playing himself). PG-13, 98 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Lake, Landmark's Century Centre, River East 21.