Myers' 'Love Guru' aims high, falls short

Review -- C-

June 20, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

Mike Myers has a conspiratorial relationship with his followers - they revel in becoming part of his fantasies. In his Austin Powers films, he lived out a dream of burlesquing the Swingin' England era that made him a movie fan. His legions soared into the psychedelic ether with him. He does everything he can in The Love Guru to welcome his base into his latest flight of farce, but it's really more of a plummet.

If anyone should be wary of parodying self-help gurus who teach people how to love themselves, it's Myers, whose movies are overly star-centered even for star vehicles. Actually, all that Myers parodies in The Love Guru is the clumsy cross-cultural style of mass-market yogis: By the end, Deepak Chopra himself appears to give the Love Guru his blessing. As a broad satire of movements and movies that Myers probably treasures more than his audience, the movie is as fangless as it is thankless: a riff on personal empowerment swamped by its own let-it-all-hang-out brand of narcissism. The biggest laughs come from ribald elephant jokes.

As Guru Pitka, a son of dog stylists who became missionaries and left their child orphaned in India, Myers addresses the audience directly, jovially welcoming them into his latest baby-bawdy playground. (Marco Schnabel directed; Myers co-wrote with Graham Gordy and co-produced with Michael DeLuca.)

Ever the shrewd showman, Myers provides droll gimmicks, including a reel-to-reel tape machine that allows him to talk in the perfect voice-over (that is, the voice of Morgan Freeman). Displaying his own new bass tones and East Indian accent, he sings an engaging specialty number over the opening credits - Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" - accompanying himself on sitar as a Bollywood chorus line of voluptuous house-keepers tidy up his ashram. As comedy insurance, Myers enlists daffy supporting players, such as Ben Kingsley as the guru's guru, and Justin Timberlake as the best-endowed goalie in the National Hockey League, who both take "over the top" to volcanic extremes.

Myers uses an East-West comic smorgasbord to entice viewers into a world where spiritual counselors become rock stars by putting wisdom (or at least tautologies) into acronyms. Guru Pitka's most important acronym is DRAMA, his prescription for spiritual healing; the D stands for "Distraction" and the R for "Regression" - and, unfortunately, that's really as far as Myers gets when it comes to using it in the plot or illustrating it in his moviemaking. In fact, he combines Distraction and Regression, using a slew of gags about bodily functions and organ size to distract viewers from his lack of comic substance and make them regress to the easily excitable state of middle-school locker rooms.

Guru Pitka, a pop philosopher who yearns to seize Chopra's mantle as America's favorite spiritual guide, has grown convinced that a shot on Oprah. will make him top dog. He can earn that shot if he meets the public challenge of reuniting a depressed Toronto Maple Leafs star (Romany Malco) with his estranged wife (Meagan Good) during the NHL finals. The team's beautiful owner (Jessica Alba) will pay the Love Guru $2 million if he completes the task; she's anxious for the team to win its first Stanley Cup since 1967 and shake off what the city of Toronto considers her family's curse. If the Guru succeeds, she might help him unlock the chastity belt that he's been wearing since adolescence, under orders not to remove it until he loves himself.

I can see what drew Myers to The Love Guru. As a sketch artist on Saturday Night Live, he had an uncanny gift for nailing the spot where the outre met the ordinary, whether on Dieter's arty German TV show or in the basement studio of Wayne's World. And, as an extemporaneous wit, Myers can be as funny as Mel Brooks: He even turned an episode of Inside the Actors Studio into a laugh riot.

Good-sport celebrities as well as genuine funnymen keep showing up, but the gifted British comic John Oliver of The Daily Show can't do much as Pitka's manager except look hyperbolically concerned. Stephen Colbert cleverly exploits his oddball-precise timing as half of a hockey-announcing team, but he stays at one remove from the rest of the movie, using the sportscasting booth as an isolation booth.

The Love Guru himself relies even more than Myers' characters usually do on self-delight; as Pitka, Myers doesn't just cock his eyelid at an audience, he turns his whole broad face and stocky body into a sagging wink. And he's so outsized all the rest of the characters can do is laugh at him or punch him or bow to his pseudo-genius. (Verne Troyer, as the coach of the Maple Leafs, gets in the best jabs.)

To judge from the crowd reaction, a phalanx of true believers might, indeed, go along for the ride, but newcomers to the Mike Myers experience will leave this love train early.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

Online

Watch a preview and see more photos from The Love Guru at baltimoresun.com/guru

The Love Guru

(Paramoun t) Starring Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, Ben Kingsley. Directed by Marco Schnabel. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, language, comic violence and drug references. Time 88 minutes.

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