Friday, June 20, 2008

"The Love Guru" -- * 1/2

I admit that Marco Schnabel's "The Love Guru" was one of 2008's more dreaded big summer movies for me. Despite my appreciation for Mike Myers' talent, the trailer looked horrific, and I entered the screening half-expecting the experience of watching the movie in full to be borderline-torturous. So, perhaps the mere fact that I didn't hate it is some sort of recommendation in itself, but while the movie is unquestionably better/funnier than I expected, it's still quite bad, and disconcertingly, it's tough to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. No, despite advance protests, it's not offensive to Indian people (though if you're gay or a midget, that's another story). The filmmaking on display is no less shoddy or competent than the "Austin Powers" films, so your liking is entirely dependent on whether or not you find the jokes funny. Personally, I found Myers' repeated dependence on his formerly winning formula of scatological jokes and shameless mugging desperate and kind of sad, and for someone who's so clearly gifted, it's almost mind-boggling how many of his jokes fall completely flat. At the end of the day, it's disposable, dumb comedic fare that goes down easy enough and will be forgotten just as easily, but in the realm of stupid movies currently playing at your multiplex, I'd take the Zohan over Guru Pitka in a heartbeat.

The movie is basically a series of sketches scotch-taped together with a guise of a plot, all centering around hugely successful Guru Pitka (Myers), who despite constantly chasing the popularity of Deepak Chopra, has developed a huge following with his pearls of wisdom, acronyms and repeated-mantra, "Mariska Hargitay." When Toronto Maple Leafs player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), known as "the Tiger Woods of hockey," is left by his girlfriend Prudence (Meagan Good) for big-dicked fellow player Jacques "Le Coq" Grande (a wildly mugging Justin Timberlake), Pitka is recruited by Maple Leafs owner Jane (Jessica Alba) to use his wisdom to get the couple back together. As he does so, Pitka develops a severe attraction/love for Jane, but cannot act on it due to his chastity belt, befitted for him by his mentor, the severely cross-eyed Guru Tugginmapuddha (a -- detecting a theme here? -- wildly mugging Ben Kingsley). Once Pitka learns to love himself, he can love others, and the chastity belt will be removed... or something like that. Throughout, Chopra's name is mentioned so many times, his cameo near the end is inevitable, though it's interesting to note that both Oprah Winfrey (who's named-checked about a dozen times) and Celine Dion are presences in the film as characters, but both wisely declined to actually appear.

As the movie began, I started thinking maybe I was wrong about my negative preconceived notions. It opens promisingly enough, with a mildly funny gag about a Morgan Freeman voice-over machine and amusingly setting up its story. Then, it immediately made me smile big with an opening credits musical sequence of Pitka singing/playing Dolly Parton's iconic "9 to 5" on the sitar. However, within five minutes, Pitka is sticking his head up his own ass, and we're getting thudding pop culture references to Paris, Britney and Lohan. The movie still has its occasional bright spots after this (there's a cute, brief nod to "Wayne's World"), but they're few and far between. The movie is all but stolen by Stephen Colbert and Jim Gaffigan as non-sequitir spouting Hockey announcers, but even they're familiar stock character that have been used better in many other movies.

What "Love Guru" makes the most evident is that Myers' comedic I.Q. seems to be regressing as he gets older. Go back and watch the "Wayne's World" films; No one would make the argument that they're particularly high-minded, but there are little-to-no gags about farting, boners, or urination/defecation. The "Austin Powers" films took things up a notch with penis jokes a-plenty, diarrhea mustaches, prolonged urinations and non-stop double entendres. With "Love Guru," Myers shows his highest percentage of scatological material yet, with nearly all of its comedic material being made up of jokes about boogers, farting, urine and elephant poop. Everything here is very crude and sexual, and that's fine in theory, it's just that so many of them are especially strained, tired and just plain stupid. A sequence of characters hitting each other in the face with mops soaked in piss seems to go on forever, and the movie never relents with Pitka's self-help acronyms that spell out things like "B-L-O-W-M-E". At one point late in the proceedings, Myers has two elephants fucking in the middle of a hockey arena for reasons that eluded me, but my crowd (who seemingly have never been to the zoo) ate it up. Basically, if you find the concept of something being in the shape of a dick and balls funny, you'll be in comedy heaven here.

But don't worry, lots of other jokes fall flat besides just the pre-adolescent-targeting scatology. The most overt problem that's evident here is Myers giving Pitka the character trait of constantly laughing at his own jokes. It just reeks of desperation to have the character's reaction insist that a joke is funny, and when all else fails, Schnabel cuts to other characters laughing at him. By and large, things are kept as broad and simple as possible (e.g.: people getting hit in the head of hockey pucks), but Myers' attempts at strange running jokes are just misguided; references to a "Quebec Pizza" as a pop tart with ketchup left my audience more bewildered than amused, and the repeated uttering of the 'Mariska Hargitay' mantra just keeps chugging along, never getting any funnier. And for all the pre-opening rumblings about offended Indians, I'm surprised the little people community isn't up in arms; there's more overtly mean mocking of midegts than the "Austin Powers" films put together. In those movies, the jokes were more of the "tee-hee, it's a little version of Dr. Evil" variety; here, it's straight up calling Verne Troyer "gnome" and "Keebler Elf" and making fun of him for being short. Myers also shoehorns in jokes/references that seem to have gone past their expiration date; the movie ends with a Bollywood parody (which have already been done to death), includes a dusty reference to "Punk'd," and features a near-replica of an outsourcing joke from "Zohan."

Myers has stated in numerous interviews that this was a very personal project for him, and I believe it, since he apparently only rarely deems a project worthy of his comedic talents (this is his first live-action appearance in a film in five years). Even if he has the ego to cameo as himself in his own movie, I admire Myers for his creativity, madcap energy and concede to the fact that he has an inspired comedic mind; I also admire him for centering this movie around his longtime love, hockey, despite it being a sport nobody cares about anymore. Whenever I see Myers in a crap movie, it's more sad than anything else because I know he's a talented guy, and even sadder because you can see how much effort and craft went into it; here are lots of original jokes here, I'll give him that, but very few of them are funny. "Love Guru" falls way, way short of the first two "Austin Powers" films and the two "Wayne's World" films -- it even pales in comparison to "So I Married An Axe Murderer" -- but it's certainly no "Cat in the Hat" (still, one of the worst movies I've ever seen) or "Goldmember;" then again, that's hardly a standard for success. At the heart of the movie's failure lies the fact that its title character just isn't a very funny one. I have difficulty imagining even those who laugh at its poop-and-dick jokes clamoring for another Pitka movie.

It's worth noting that almost all the cast here is trying their best, but almost to a person, they're terrible. Timberlake has proven himself adept at dramatic work (e.g.: "Alpha Dog," "Southland Tales," "Black Snake Moan") and comedy (his "SNL" hosting gigs) alike, and he's fearless in making a fool of himself here, but for almost every second he's on screen as Jacques le Coq, he's borderline-embarrassing. His horrific French-Canadian accent may be intentional, but he seems to have taken a cue from Myers with his mugging and exaggerated gyrations; it might be enough for some that he's shirtless in a handful of scenes, but I was mostly shaking my head at any joke he delivered. As Jane, Alba gives one of her better performances, mostly due to the fact that she's not given much dialogue; still, when she's asked to emote or raise her voice, it's a reminder of why she's, by far, the worst actress working today. Though, giving her a run for her money, Jessica Simpson shows up to answer the question 'Can an actress really be cringe-inducingly awful in a ten-second cameo?'

Much has been made of the fact that two broad, high-profile comedies with major stars -- "The Love Guru" and "Get Smart" -- are facing off at the box office this weekend. This is a much more original, inspired work than the formulaic "Get Smart," so I feel a little guilty saying that I liked the latter significantly better. As conventional as it is, "Get Smart" generally succeeds at what it's trying to do, and has more moments where I was chuckling or enjoying myself, while "Love Guru" more often flounders in its desperate scatology. I do have to emphasize that "The Love Guru" is not a particularly painful sit. There have certainly been worse, lazier dumb comedies, and the whole affair goes by fairly quickly (the 80-minute running time helps). I wouldn't begrudge its defenders; 10-to-15-year-old boys, in particular, should adore it. But in a summer already rife with broad comedies to choose from., I'd advise you sit this one out and wait for Myers' next, hopefully better effort.


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