The Love Guru

Not counting some assorted supporting players in the Austin Powers films, it's been more than a decade since Mike Myers has debuted an original character on the big screen, which he does in The Love Guru with a rascally self-help guru who actually needs to learn to love himself. Eschewing what could have a more interesting and provocative treatment of the same concept, the film instead trades in Myers' favored trademark steady diet of scatological humor, outlandish asides and laboriously constructed sexual double entendres. Laughs are intermittent but detached from any sense of a cohesive whole, and the sum product makes a persuasive case that manic relentlessness is not by itself a film virtue.

An American who was left at the gates of an ashram in India as a child, Myers' Pitka was raised alongside Deepak Chopra — with whom he still has a rivalry — and mentored by Guru Tugginmypudha (Ben Kingsley). Now the head of a successful self-help and spirituality empire that spins simple truths from all sorts of trademarked acronyms and tweaked bromides, Pitka's unorthodox methods are put to the test when he's hired to settle a rift between Toronto Maple Leafs star hockey player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) and his estranged wife (Meagan Good). Out of revenge, Roanoke’s wife has started dating L.A. Kings star goalie Jacques "Le Coc" Grande (Justin Timberlake), sending her husband into a major professional skid.

With the two teams squaring off in the Stanley Cup championship, Maple Leafs owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba) and Coach Cherkov (Verne Troyer) look to Pitka to get Roanoke back on his game, so the team can win. Pitka, meanwhile, nurses a crush on Jane, believing that she can unlock the chastity belt with which he's been saddled since youth.

Some of The Love Guru's haphazard gags (a voiceover machine with a Morgan Freeman setting; the repeated, blessed invocation of Mariska Hargitay, which invites a cameo by the actress of the same name) are inspired, even if a bit industry-specific. Myers, dropping his voice register to a honey-dipped professorial tone that spikes when he's stricken with devilish delight, is as invested as ever in character, and one sees in Pitka much possibility with regards to a new franchise.

The Love Guru's chief problems are twofold. The first lies in tone, and narrative direction. The coexistence of highbrow and lowbrow is always a tough marriage, but if attempted, the former tone has to take a background position of subjugation, or jostle for attention in the form of a contrasting character who cluckingly disapproves of the unevolved events swirling all around him. Pitka, though, seems to embody both highbrow and lowbrow, but only based on what's convenient for a given scene. This leads one to question his sincerity, and the movie's veracity, even within its own parameters of heightened absurdity. Not rooted in character, much of the film's scatological humor feels like not particularly clever attempts at shoring up tween audience support.

The second problem is more specifically related to Myers' portrayal. Debut director Marco Schnabel certainly keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and has a visual conception for the story, but there's no honest check on Myers' hammy instincts, which drain a good bit of pop and surprise from many of the lines. Less mugging for effect would have certainly bred a stronger attachment to the story, and a more natural appreciation of the jokes.

In supporting turns, a zonked Stephen Colbert and straight man Jim Gaffigan breathe some life into their roles as sportscasters calling the hockey action. Singer-actor Timberlake has fun playing big, meanwhile, in more ways than one (his character is legendarily well endowed, you see) and Malco (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Baby Mama) continues to display fine comedic timing and plenty of charisma to burn. (Paramount, PG-13, 86 minutes)


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