Until now, just about the only complaint worth lodging against Albert Brooks had to do with the infrequency with which he made films. Though he acted and wrote in the meantime, Brooks took a five-year hiatus between Defending Your Life and Mother. But if The Muse represents what happens when Brooks rushes things, coming a mere three years after Mother, he should by all means take his time. Brooks may only have made five films as a writer/director/star until now, but all of them rank among the smartest, funniest comedies of the last 20 years. How sadly appropriate, then, that he would play a screenwriter who fears he's losing his edge in the one film in which he appears to have done so himself. Co-written with longtime partner Monica Johnson, The Muse stars Brooks as an Oscar-nominated veteran screenwriter who suddenly finds that his name doesn't carry the weight it once did. His life, and that of wife Andie MacDowell, changes when, at the advice of a more successful friend (Jeff Bridges), Brooks begins to consult a professional muse (Sharon Stone) whose claims of descent from Mt. Olympus go largely unquestioned in the face of her unquestionable results. Despite a few cracks here and there—Brooks ought to be above bouncing jokes off adorable moppets—The Muse starts well enough, especially in an early scene involving Lorenzo Lamas. But cracks turn into fissures upon the arrival of Stone. Not that she's especially bad (though she's not especially good), but it becomes apparent quickly that The Muse's concept simply doesn't work. There's just nothing inherently funny about it, and Brooks can't find anything funny to bring to it. That problem runs throughout the film, as if Brooks forgot to flesh out the outline of his plot with anything amusing or sharp. From Stone's character to cameos by Martin Scorsese and James Cameron to Brooks himself in all but a few moments, little here works. Worse still, Brooks seems to have willingly taken the edge off himself. From the moment in which his character needs to have the word "muse" defined for him—he's a writer, for God's sake!—to the moment in which Brooks takes a Waldorf salad in the face, there's a palpable sense that The Muse has been flattened and compressed to reach the widest possible audience. That's never been what Brooks has been about, and in doing so, he runs the risk of losing the core audience that appreciates his unwillingness to dumb things down, not to mention the elements that have made his films special. If anybody really wanted watered-down Hollywood satire from a once-brilliant comedian playing it way too safe, they could always see Bowfinger again.