by David Cornelius
Consider, for a moment, the Awkward Reaction Shot. It’s a staple of comedy filmmaking: a quiet shot, lasting a second or three, of a character reacting to something funny that just happened in the shot prior. The object of the Awkward Reaction Shot is simply to help pacing by filling time, so the story (or, likely, the next joke) won’t get missed under all that audience laughter.Mike Myers’ movies, from “Wayne’s World” to “Austin Powers” and now “The Love Guru,” are lousy with Awkward Reaction Shots. You can’t make it through five minutes without being assaulted with them. Each “Austin Powers” film alone contains dozens upon dozens of cutaways to Myers and/or his costars simply nodding, or staring, or looking confused, or being grossed out. (I wonder what kind of YouTube video could be made using nothing but these shots.) These are fine when watching these movies in a crowded theater, where the wall of laughter helps you ignore the extraneous footage. But what about when nobody’s laughing? You get a movie with out-of-step rhythms that leave the film feeling weird, ill-timed, just plain off.
That’s what happens in “The Love Guru.” It’s not enough that so many jokes bomb, but for each of these duds to be followed immediately with footage of supporting players just standing there, killing time, rubs it in: here’s where you’re supposed to be laughing, but, depressingly, aren’t.
Written by Myers and Graham Gordy and directed by frequent Myers collaborator (and first-time helmer) Marco Schnabel, “The Love Guru” is Myers’ latest attempt at crafting a complete movie out of a sketch-sized idea. He’s succeeded wildly before - the debut adventures of Wayne Campbell and Austin Powers are slices of comedy genius - but this new film suffers the same fate as his later, uninspired “Powers” sequels. “The Love Guru” looks like it was a blast to make, but too many ideas are half-baked and too many more are oversold. With too few workable gags, the characters begin to wear out their welcome all too quickly.
The guru of the title is the Guru Pitka, an American orphan raised in India by the Guru Tugginmypudha, which is a bad enough joke on its own, never mind that the elder role is played by a wacky-accented, cross-eyed Sir Ben Kingsley. Yes, Sir Ben Kingsley, and yes, wacky-accented, and yes, cross-eyed, because that’s the sort of comic brilliance that gets you knighted. (Academy Award-winner Sir Ben Kingsley also gets to crack jokes about “doggy style” and introduce a scene involving mops soaked with urine expelled from the body of The Right Honorable Academy Award-winner Sir Ben Kingsley, Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Comedy!)
Anyway. Pitka is the second best guru in the world (right behind Deepak Chopra), and his quest to land the number one spot hinges on an appearance on “Oprah.” By the way, both Chopra and Oprah Winfrey appear in the film, as does Celine Dion. In the case of Chopra, it’s a one-shot cameo filmed in a way that suggests he may not have been on the set with anyone else but a few extras. Dion isn’t really Dion but a body double shot from very far away, with one of her songs dubbed in. And Oprah is seen in archival footage from her TV show, with her lines dubbed by an imposter. My guess is that all three were invited to be in the film, but only Chopra accepted, and even he could only make it long enough to shoot half the scene. All these non-cameos leave the film looking cheap. (On the other hand, Val Kilmer, Jessica Simpson, and Mariska Hargitay also pop up, and those cameos work, especially Hargitay’s, which leads to one of the few funny moments in the film.)
Oh, and speaking of cheap! The movie is riddled with the very sort of product placement Myers himself ridiculed in one of the most memorable scenes in “Wayne’s World.” Myers caught the product placement bug while making the “Austin Powers” films (those in-movie Heineken mentions - ugh!), and here he shills for Cinnabon (pausing to play out one key scene right in front of the company’s sign) while the movie’s NHL-based story allows for countless shots of rinkside adverts for video game systems and cell phones and fast food chains.
Where was I? Ah, yes, the Guru Pitka. He’s been hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs (movie’s rare funny joke no. 2: why aren’t they the “Leaves”?) to repair the broken marriage of their star player, Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), and his wife, Prudence (Meagan Good). After Darren broke off the relationship and Prudence ran to the arms of creepy hockey star Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (Justin Timberlake), Darren’s playing has gone downhill. Can Pitka fix the relationship - and therefore Darren’s hockey skills - in time for the championships?
“The Love Guru” is a series of undercooked ideas and cheap gags. The story, which also includes some filler about Pitka’s attraction to Leafs owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba), is handled with minimum interest; the plot follows a basic formula (including a seventh-game sports finale and a chintzy break-up-then-make-up story for Pitka and Jane), but just enough to get by. Myers and Company are more concerned with general goofiness and dopey-funny asides.
Sometimes it works. The throwaway footage of the Leafs’ announcers (Stephen Colbert and Jim Gaffigan) is manic and clever; then again, it looks like it was shot in a day and stands completely removed from the rest of the film. The idea of Pitka playing modern songs on his sitar is cute and earns smiles; then again, we get three of these numbers, all of them far too long, straining - nay, killing - the joke. Myers has a terrific rapport with his costars, giving the film the very kind of lightweight charm a project like this needs; then again, one wishes some of that energy could have been put into the script itself.
The rest is stuff like calling the Leafs coach “Punch Cherkov,” or Pitka’s Indian village as “Harenmahkeester,” or having John Oliver play a man named “Dick Pants.” And so on. These are the sort of things that make you giggle at three in the morning, but you don’t put them in your movie. Not if you want your movie to not suck.
The coach, by the way, is played by Verne Troyer, allowing Myers to use up the rest of his little people jokes left over from the days of Mini-Me. Aside from the tired, obvious cracks about Keebler elves and the Lollipop Guild, the screenplay also provides us with a scene set in the coach’s office. Here, everything is half-sized, from the door to the furniture to the water cooler. It could have been a brilliant set piece, like the half-floor in “Being John Malkovich,” only twisted to fit Myers’ own comic sensibilities. Instead, we get a few minutes of cheap slapstick as Pitka gets his head stuck in the ceiling. Yawn.Which perhaps best defines the sort of comedy on display in “The Love Guru.” Fine ideas, lazy execution. Myers has never been one for subtlety, but here, he once again insists on overselling and overexplaining every punchline (when Kanye West appears for a few seconds as himself, thus poking fun at his infamous anti-Bush tirade during a Hurricane Katrina benefit, the movie makes sure to include a subtitle indicating who he is, lest we not get the joke), which leaves even the brightest scenes dragging. We’re left with a whole lot of reaction shots, and nobody in the audience laughing.
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originally posted: 06/20/08 00:00:00