Friday, June 27, 2008

The Love Guru (2008)

The Love Guru is the worst movie I've seen in quite a while (since January 28th of this year, to be exact, when I saw the loathsome Meet the Spartans). I take no pleasure in typing these words; ten years ago I looked at Mike Myers as the worthy successor to comedic heroes like Mel Brooks and the ZAZ team. Now I wonder if Dr. Evil finally perfected that cloning process and replaced Mr. Myers with a doppleganger hellbent on ruining his career and his reputation. I'd rather believe that than believe one of my former favorites has lost his way so utterly.

I recently stumbled over an old Orson Welles quote that applies here: "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations." From the outside, this looks like one of those classic examples of an artist who gets too successful and too powerful for their own good, begins to drink their own egomaniacal Kool-Aid and completely loses their ability to self-edit (let alone objectively consider the editing suggestions of others). Call it "On Deadly Ground Syndrome." Myers hasn't written anything since the third Austin Powers back in 2002, so he clearly wasn't working on a deadline and the way he combines two disparate subjects — spiritual self-help gurus and the Toronto Maple Leafs — is downright bizarre. Why fuse a character who is all about dispensing sex advice while making terrible puns with the world of professional hockey? Only because Mike Myers love these two things very dearly. And I can easily see myself getting behind a movie that had either one of those things. But both together? I love steak for dinner and cookies for desert, but don't ask me to stack them in a sandwich and eat them both at once, please.

From a technical standpoint, I give Myers credit for his new character, Maurice Pitka, a celebrity-craving guru who's greatest desire in life is to appear as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He's got a memorable look and a convincing accent. He's also got a (theoretical) comedic hook — a guy who knows nothing about love or sex dispensing doofy advice to people who are too stupid to realize they're getting shammed — but Myers wants to have his cake and eat it too. He uses Pitka to gently poke fun at L.A.'s celebrity-backed religions (and religions of celebrity) but he ultimately affirms him a legitimate philosopher. Myers even gets Deepak Chopra to pop up after the ludicrous happy ending (hint: it involves elephants having sex on a hockey rink) and validate Pitka as a fine guru indeed. Bullshit — the guy's a huckster with his nose buried in a book of tasteless jokes. Myers should have gone the extra yard and cast himself as one of the B-listers who populate Guru's L.A. ashram along with Val Kilmer and Jessica Simpson.

Kudos to Stephen Colbert, who brings something new to the now-obligatory "wacky" play-by-play broadcaster, a trope that's in serious danger of becoming as clichéd as the cliché it's supposed to send up (see Fred Willard in Best in Show, Jason Bateman in Dodgeball, Will Arnett in Semi-Pro et al.). And Justin Timberlake does a nice job too, as Jacques "Le Coq" Grande, who looks like something out of the 80s cokehead period of Boogie Nights, talks in a French Canadian accent, and loves Celine Dion. He has a really funny sound gag that involves an enormous penis thudding to the floor. But other than that, there's nothing else to single out for praise. Jessica Alba remains a painfully attractive woman but on the scale of Mike Myers Female Co-Stars she rates below Beyonce, and not even worth comparing to the comedic heights of multitalented hotties like Elizabeth Hurley or Tia Carrere. Casting Verne Troyer as the head coach of the Maple Leaps does nothing except give one of Myers' friend some work and, astonishingly, his "Coach Cherkov" is only the second worst character name in the piece (I'd rank Sir Ben Kingsley's "Guru Tugginmypudha" as numero uno). In Austin Powers, the hokey pun names (like, say, Alotta Fagina) were funny because they were a jab of the hokey pun names in actual James Bond movies (like, say, Holly Goodhead). Here Myers seems to miss that crucial distinction and just piles them on. It's a move that reeks of desperation.

It's not even a situation where you can laugh at The Love Guru instead of with it (although the scene with the humping elephants, coupled with the comments I heard Myers make on the radio where he called the hockey scenes in the film "very authentic," comes pretty close). There was a sadness to the first Austin Powers, before the series devolved into wall-to-wall jokes, in that scene where the always manic Austin sits down and realizes all the things he's lost in his decades of cryo-slumber. There could be something sad about Guru Pitka too, but Myers doesn't really reflect on it at any point. He just tosses off another bad joke, flashes that exaggeratedly toothy grin, and preps his next little person insult for Verne Troyer (we get it; he's short). After 95 uninspired minutes, that gets pretty sad too.

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Blogger Michael J. Anderson said...

A fine review, Mr. Singer. I can really see my teenage self - back in the midst of Mr. Myers peak, coincidentally - going for a movie with midgets, Indians, a beautiful woman and especially hockey (my #1 teenage obsession, just above "Seinfeld"). Oh, foolish teenage self!

Then again, I might not have cared for it so much, which was long ago my opinion of "Tommy Boy," a film much quoted at the time in my hockey locker room. Then again, I found myself watching the same "Tommy Boy" on cable earlier this afternoon meaning that in all likelihood, I will find myself, a decade from now, watching "The Love Guru" on TBS... having learned nothing from my teenage or twenty-something selves.

6:50 PM  

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