If Richard Attenborough ever follows up his Charlie Chaplin biopic with a project dedicated to cross-eyed wonder Ben Turpin, casting the leading role won't be hard. Ben Kingsley's the man!
The strenuous new Mike Myers vehicle "The Love Guru" is all about Myers, of course, but the man who played Gandhi grabs what he can in a supporting role, that of optically challenged Guru Tugginmypuddha (unrelated to Guru Thesearethejokesfolks), tough-love inspiration to Myers' character. The movie showcases Guru Pitka, the "neo-Eastern self-help spiritualist" who dreams of zooming past Deepak Chopra in the eyes of a grateful book-buying public.
At one point Kingsley oversees a punishing round of "stink-mop." His disciples, including the American-born Pitka, whack each other with mops soaked in urine. Urine is very, very big in "The Love Guru," as are boogers and elephant feces and dwarf insults endured by Verne Troyer, who played Mini-Me in Myers' "Austin Powers" franchise. He portrays the much-abused coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Yes, this is all part of the same movie.) Jessica Alba is the team owner, who hires the Love Guru to get star player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) out of the love dumps and into competitive fighting trim for the Stanley Cup finals.
Throughout "The Love Guru," Alba and other performers are required to crack up in reaction-shot close-up at the antics and trash-talk wordplay of Pitka. "I haven't laughed like this in such a long time," Alba says. Comedies tend to work better when the supporting characters don't set up the main event quite so shamelessly.
So how is the main event? The character of Pitka is enough for a recurring "Saturday Night Live" sketch, if the episodes were typical "SNL" sketch length. Blown up to feature-length format, the bromides and healing axioms become predictable. You don't find yourself rooting for this guy; he's not funny enough. The better bits in "The Love Guru" tend to be the least exaggerated: the way Pitka bends the word "intimacy" into "into me I see," for example, or the way everyone uses the phrase " Mariska Hargitay" as a greeting. But we're talking 15 or 20 minutes of decent material. The movie runs a little longer than that.
The reason Austin Powers took off the way he did had nothing to do with the comic elegance of the filmmaking, or the quality of the 10-ton double-entendres. Myers' fiercely focused exuberance carried the day. Pitka just isn't as diverting a character, and he's oddly similar--in his smarm and trash-talk and asides--to the spy with the grotty teeth. The script by Myers and Graham Gordy plops from set-up to set-up, and the direction by newbie Marco Schnabel is strictly mediocre, struggling to establish a flow or a rhythm. "Blades of Glory," another rink-centric star vehicle, looks better all the time by comparison, and its makers knew how to set up a sight gag. Here we're always lingering, lingering on inconclusive solo bits of business cooked up by Myers. Why does he interrupt a wolverine impression with five seconds of pretending to make a cell phone call? You tell me.
Myers is a fascinating pop phenomenon: He works big, scaling his effects the way Eddie Cantor or the Ritz Brothers did back in the '30s, straight to the second balcony. When the guileless overstatement works, the audience is his. "The Love Guru" does not bring out his best, though, and aside from a deft early Bollywood parody, there's nothing visually to help the fun along, at least beyond Justin Timberlake's fake mustache and enhanced package in the role of L.A. Kings goalie Jacques "Le Coq" Grande. Myers tries to make the comic enlightenment happen, yet the love doctor who discovers love for himself feels inchoate and fuzzy around the edges, and the film never capitalizes on the idea that Pitka, at heart, is one mean-spirited guru, very harsh with the dwarf jokes, and rather wearying screen company.
See the trailer and find local showtimes for "The Love Guru."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times