THE SERIES "The Brink"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday night at 10:30 on HBO

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WHAT IT'S ABOUT Alex Talbot (Jack Black) is a low-level State Department functionary with the United States embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. He basically hates Pakistan but loves the pot he scores there. After one such purchase, he and his driver, Rafiq (Aasif Mandvi), are surrounded by an angry mob. Darting through the streets, they find their way back to Rafiq's house, where -- long story short -- Talbot finds the psychiatric records of Pakistan's insane leader, intent on destroying Israel. Back in D.C., the prez orders a strike first -- against the advice of his bibulous, prostitute-patronizing secretary of state, Walter Larson (Tim Robbins). A world war is about to begin. Will Talbot find a way to stop it? Will anyone find a way to stop "ace pilot" Zeke "Z-Pak" Tilson (Pablo Schreiber)? Comedy reportedly ensues.

MY SAY A black comedy set in Pakistan, where a rogue dictator is about to launch a nuclear strike on Israel? In a spirit of generosity, let's assume director Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents") and co-creator Roberto Benabib ("Weeds") actually managed to find something hilarious behind that logline before production started. In the spirit of truth, let's inform you that they did not. "The Brink" is a grim would-be comedy grindhouse full of half-baked one-liners propping up an overbaked plot. At least the first vomit joke doesn't arrive until next week's episode.

Filmed satires on U.S. misadventures overseas and the misadventurers who pursue them have a long history, from Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" to Armando Iannucci's "In the Loop." Binding the best of them is a bottomless rage, leavened by a bleak recognition that at least man's inhumanity to man has its funny side. "The Brink" appears to have no such conviction, except maybe a conviction that big stars like Black or Robbins can mug their way through any scene -- no matter how lame the setup or how deflated the payoff.

But that's no conviction -- just a hope and a prayer. They go unanswered here.

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