If you don't count his vocal work in the Shrek films, The Love Guru marks the return of Mike Myers to the big screen after a five-year absence. Last seen in 2003's The Cat in the Hat, Myers is now unveiling -- or is that unleashing? -- a new character, Guru Pitka, a self-help maven who brings the spiritual teachings he learned from Guru Tugginmypudha (Ben Kingsley) in India to America. Much like Austin Powers, Guru Pitka gives Myers an opportunity to play to what he thinks of as his strengths, giving us an outlandish-looking character with a thick accent and a fish-out-of-water back story. The problem is that Pitka's entirely too much like Austin Powers -- not a character, but instead a series of catchphrases, makeup appliances and goofy mannerisms that lets Meyers indulge in his penchant for sex gags, bodily-function gags and constant, self-satisfied glances at the camera.
Any time you review a film like this negatively, people ask "Why can't you just enjoy a few laughs?" And I can't give a simple answer to that, but I think it comes down to the fact that I can't just enjoy a few laughs if they're surrounded by a much larger chaotic mass of things that aren't funny. So it is with The Love Guru, as Pitka's brought to Toronto to help Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba), the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, get her broken-hearted star player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) over his girlfriend Prudence (Megan Good) leaving him for L.A. Kings goalie Jacques "Le Coq" Grande (Justin Timberlake) so that the Leafs might win the Stanley Cup. The occasional funny bit is drowned out by the mass and might of Meyers's self-indulgent eagerness to wallow in his obsessions -- poop, accents, naughty talk, makeup and innuendo.
There's also the question of if The Love Guru is racist; is Pitka supposed to be funny because he's saying nonsense, or is he supposed to be funny because he's saying nonsense in a kinda-sorta Indian accent through a huge beard and curling mustache? Is part of the comedic appeal -- or, rather, what's intended as the comedic appeal -- of Guru Pitka the fact that Meyers is playing a White man who talks like those wacky, silly Indians? I can't say if Guru Pikta's a racist creation; I can say he's not that funny. Spouting aphorisms and acronyms, constantly plugging his books, dreaming of being on Oprah and supplanting Deepak Chopra, Pitka's not merely unbelievable, he's dull. The other problem is that Meyers wants to not only spoof but also celebrate self-help ideas; Pitka's a ludicrous figure, but, of course, he's also right.
There are a lot of ways you could make a character like this actually funny -- have Pitka be a successful fraud who knows he's a fraud and yet actually decides to drop the act to truly help someone and himself, or having Pitka be a utter failure as a entrepreneur who still manages to offer real knowledge and wisdom with people who need his help; either would put some tension and possibility into the film. But watching Pitka wander through a huge compound fretting about how he can go from the number two guru spot to number one through the blessings of Oprah just makes Pitka a bore. (Note to Hollywood: Movies about rich, famous people who long to be even more rich and famous are really only interesting to the rich and famous; most of us, with bills to pay and real challenges in our own lives, would rather watch someone with real stakes on the line.)
But then you wouldn't get to see Meyers playing a training game where meditation students swat at each other with urine-soaked mops. Or the wide range of elephantine biological functions we're treated to. Or the gag about how Pitka has to wear a chastity belt as part of his spiritual journey, so every time Jane makes a romantic overture we hear a dull metal clanging from South of Pitka's waistline and watch Myers cross his eyes in mock pain. A big part of The Love Guru's plot revolves around if Pitka can take his own advice -- guru, heal thyself -- but that's drowned out by scenes like Pitka recreating the sound of a disastrous case of upset digestion for what seems like an eternity. (Even with a 90-minute running time, The Love Guru is still padded and slack; it's like a flabby anorexic.)
Director Marco Schnabel has to shoulder some of the blame for The Love Guru; much like Dennis Dugan's hack-tacular work for You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Schnabel's duties seem to have consisted solely of nodding and telling his star he's a genius. Myers co-wrote The Love Guru with Graham Gordy, and was apparently inspired by some of the soul-searching he himself has done in the wake of his father's death and the collapse of his marriage. If Myers had written a movie about that, about a real human being going through spiritual challenges, instead of a makeup-festooned caricature leaping through idiotic fantastic plot points, that might have been a film worth watching.
But The Love Guru isn't worth watching; yes, Timberlake gets his goofy on as a French-Canadian goalie with a prodigious endowment, '70s 'fro and penchant for doing the robot, but that brief glimmering of charm can't rescue the film; there are a couple of fun faux-Bollywood musical numbers; the hockey action is also well-shot (by second-unit director Mark Ellis, who also shot the hockey sequences in Miracle), and the film snaps briefly our of its self-satisfied doze whenever the film takes to the ice. The Love Guru was supposed to be a big, hearty "Welcome Back" for Mike Myers; instead, it just reminds us of all the ways he wore out his welcome just a few years ago. Scattered, scatological and swamped with self-indulgence, The Love Guru is a great demonstration of the law of diminishing returns; the louder and larger it gets, the easier it becomes to ignore. I don't mind a comedy that goes over-the-top, but it has to at least start with its feet on the ground, or be truly hilarious. But by the end of The Love Guru, with Pitka getting elephants to copulate on ice in order to distract Darren from his fears before the penalty shot that might win the Leafs the Cup, the procreating pachyderms -- and indeed, the whole film -- make for less of a bang than a whimper. There may be a few laughs in The Love Guru, but I hope people don't actually buy tickets to it for one simple reason: If Mike Myers is obsessed with poop, pee and penises, that's his problem; if audiences make him rich for playing that out on-screen, then it becomes ours.