Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Love Guru / *½ (PG-13)

Guru Pitka: Mike Myers
Darren Roanoke: Romany Malco
Jane Bullard: Jessica Alba
Jacques Grande: Justin Timberlake
Coach Punch Cherkov: Verne Troyer
Guru Tugginmypudha: Ben Kingsley

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Marco Schnabel. Written by Mike Myers and Graham Gordy. Running time: 87 min. Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some comic violence and drug references).

Sometimes I see a movie and just want to sigh afterward. This is not a good sigh. This is a “what were they thinking?” sigh. I didn’t want to sigh all throughout “The Love Guru”, just at the end. This is because during the movie I sat in eager anticipation of a joke that might actually be funny. I sat and sat; and finally when it was over, I sighed.

“The Love Guru” is a one joke pony. That joke is Guru Pitka himself. As played by Mike Myers, Guru Pitka is yet another in a line of weirdo comedic characters who could’ve been funny, if there were anything else going on besides his shtick. But Myers’s character is the only joke in the movie and he’s a joke we’ve seen done better in previous projects, like the “Austin Powers” spy spoof series. Resembling the multitude of characters Myers canonized in those films, Pitka is a man who seems out of place in his chosen profession. American-born but raised by Indian gurus, Pitka is exactly the opposite of what we all imagine an enlightened self-help guru to be. He has a juvenile mentality, finding the utmost joy in riding his motorized pillow around and generally bringing attention to himself.

In a flashback scene from Pitka’s childhood, we get a good example of a joke that should be funnier than it is. Instead of hiring a child actor to play the young Pitka, the filmmakers superimpose Myers’s adult head onto a young boy’s body. While the image is awkward enough to garner a chuckle at first, no comment is ever made on the motif to distinguish it in a humorous manner. The joke fizzles under the plot. We learn here that Pitka’s flaw is that he is too concerned with what other people think about him to achieve true enlightenment. This is brought to his attention by his teacher Guru Tugginmypuhda (Ben Kingsley in yet another project unworthy of his talents) who, along with sporting a goofy name, is severely cross-eyed. This handicap is commented on by the screenplay yet still isn’t funny.

Pitka is repeatedly told, “Before you can truly love another, you must first love yourself.” If this were some sort of original concept, we might need to be reminded of it once or twice; but come on. Now the entire plot is spelled out for us. Pitka will learn to love himself, so he can love another. We don’t have to be concerned about being confused by some crazy romantic comedy twist. Phew!

Any doubts are defused when we are introduced to Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”), owner of the struggling professional hockey team the Blue Maple Leafs. For the first time in thirty years, the Leafs have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup; but Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco, Showtime’s “Weeds”), their star player, has been choking since his wife left him for a rival team’s goalie Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake, “Alpha Dog”). Bullard hires Pitka to get them back together, but her interest in Pitka is obviously more than just professional.

I lied when I said the Guru Pitka character was the only joke. Timberlake’s Grande is nicknamed “Le Cocque” for good reason. Timberlake tries his darnedest to make this lame bird fly but, beyond an unhealthy obsession with Celine Dion, isn’t given much to work with.

The amazing thing about the screenplay by Myers and Graham Gordy is its insistence of concentrating its energies on nothing other than the strangeness of Guru Pitka. Roanoke’s wife should be a major element of the plot; but poor Meagan Good (“Stomp the Yard”) is barely given more lines than an extra to play her. The play-by-play and color commentators (comedians Jim Gaffigan and Stephen Colbert respectively) of the hockey games are given more plot involvement.

Even Pitka’s love interest disappears from the story for a good third of the movie while Myers persists in forcing the same jokes that worked for Austin Powers and Doctor Evil down the audience’s throat in an incessant loop. Example: Once again Verne Troyer (Mini-Me from “Austin Powers”) is employed for Myers to make verbal insinuation jokes regarding his size, such as, “I didn’t catch your gnome… name!” And there’s always the comedic standby involving committing acts of violence against little people. But all these jokes fall flat. We’ve either seen them before or are given no emotional investment in which to base our amusement.

Perhaps by playing only one character, Myers hasn’t given himself enough to do as the love guru. In the “Austin Powers” series—which I admired—he was able to develop several characters with slight variations in the jokes each committed. Too bad he doesn’t have confidence in other actors to match his comedic chops. Of course, after this fiasco, that may not be such a tall order.

There was one joke that had me laughing. When Jane Bullard first shows interest in Guru Pitka, he has a fantasy sequence in which the two characters find themselves in an Indian Bollywood-style musical, with each singing in the popular Indian manner. Indian musicals have a very distinct atmosphere to them and director Marco Schnabel captures it perfectly in Pitka’s fantasy. However, this is a joke that only someone who had seen a Bollywood musical would get, and I doubt much of Myers’s target audience has seen one.

No comments: