Some things are obvious. Like sneaking out a DVD just into the New Year with not a lot of fanfare. This is the usual indication that the movie in question stinks in a way that only, say, extremely runny Camembert can. So it seems to be with The Love Guru, which I bought and have now watched. Is it really that irretrievably awful? No, actually, it isn’t; it is not, however, anywhere as good a film as it should be. Why not? Well, I think the problem lies with Mike Myers himself; it’s not entirely simple to explain, but I’ll try.
Myers has made his reputation on the basis of character comedy, both with and without partners. In the two Wayne’s World films he worked well with Dana Carvey, while in the Austin Powers films he manages to carry the film along on his own, albeit with strong supporting casts. In both of these cases, the principal character is quite a strong one: most teenage boys or those in their 20’s could understand Wayne Campbell to some degree, even it was an exaggeration of the truth. Austin Powers, of course, played on a number of levels: American perceptions of Englishness, the Bond movies (and the Derek Flint films) not to mention the filtering of the 1960’s through the eyes of a modern, fin de siècle audience. The most interesting Myers film, though, is his first: So I Married An Axe Murderer. It’s a film with a great supporting cast and one where Myers’ character is better developed than in later efforts.
Unfortunately, all of these points of recognition are almost universal for audiences in the West. But the same doesn’t really apply to the character of Guru Pitka. Because there is less understanding on the part of the audience it’s that much more difficult to go with the gag, especially in these more politically correct times when such fun-poking can be seen as rather lazy racial stereotyping. I don’t think Myers (quite) gets there, to be fair. His accent does drift alarmingly, however. To get around this lack of understanding of the character he has to work harder to give him a back story, which I think explains things just a bit too much. And it’s annoying because there are the foundations of some good gags, both running and one-off. It’s also interesting that i actually think that some of the deleted material should have stayed in, because they were an improvement on the edits that made it mostly.
The other problem was that it cosied up too much to a target that could have been speared: the remorseless tide of self-help, actualisation, guru-style media floating around in the US (and becoming more popular here). The fact that this film actually had a Deepak Chopra cameo pretty much exemplifies the problem. If the film really had speared the whole Hollywood guru circus, we wouldn’t have seen Chopra for the smoke. Myers’ own interest in eastern mysticism probably has not helped him apply his critical faculties to the situation fully, seeing as one could reasonably claim that he’s actually a part of it himself.
That’s the film’s major problem. To a lesser degree, some of Myers’ gags are not as strong as in previous outings. And he does have a tendency to push an idea to its limit (and on occasion past it) to extract the maximum amount of laughter. It doesn’t always work this time. But sometimes it does, especially where he uses Verne Troyer.
Many have complained about Ben Kingsley ‘demeaning himself’ playing Guru Tugginmypuddha. I disagree. He’s clearly having fun and this is the kind of dumb, puerile humour Myers does best. The ‘Stink Mop’ sequence is a riot. In fact, the longer version, complete with Omid Djalili as Guru Sachabignobba, is one of the deleted scenes that should have stayed in. The top and tail musical sequences aren’t bad, though I think the ‘9 to 5’ number worked a little better at the start.
Justin Timberlake does himself quite quite a few favours as he does seem to have the ability to play comedy. His turn as Jacques ‘Le Coq’ Grandé is a pretty good one. I also really liked the commentary booth moments with Trent and Jay. The deleted scenes scenes for these two contain a couple of fantastic moments, particularly at one point as Jay is dragged out of the box and shouts a very interesting expression in German as the security guards haul him away.
In the end, this film is not the car crash you may have heard about. Neither though is it all it should have been. A missed opportunity.