The velvet suit has been swapped for silk robes. The mop-top has been replaced by Medusan curls of beard and moustache, the artificial overbite by a prosthetic nose. Yes, Mike Myers is back.
The Love Guru is Myers’s first live-action role since 2003’s The Cat in the Hat, but it harkens back beyond that act of cinematic vandalism to his signature success, the Austin Powers franchise. As an American-born, India-trained self-help swami obsessed with overtaking Deepak Chopra, Myers’s new character, the Guru Pitka, may have a different job and accent than his shagadelic superspy, but he’s basically the same guy: An internationally famous love god who’s nonetheless awkward around women, a devotee of sexual puns, and an addicted violator of the fourth wall, who pivots to the camera after almost every joke to make certain it was adequately appreciated. Call him the International Man of Mysticism.
Early in the movie, Guru Pitka is hired by the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs to save the team after its star player (Romany Malco), the “Tiger Woods of hockey,” breaks up with his wife (Meagan Good), and his game goes to pieces on the eve of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Wish fulfillment layer one: Toronto native Myers is a fanatical Leafs fan. Wish fulfillment layer two: The team owner--and eventual love interest--is played by überhottie Jessica Alba.) Pitka’s efforts to reunite the quarrelling couple are further complicated by the fact that she has shacked up with a French-Canadian goalie, Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (Justin Timberlake), whose nickname does not signify a fondness for poulet roti.
The usual Myersian elements jockey for position: The audible erections (here more a “clang” than a “schwing,” thanks to Pitka’s vexing chastity belt); the daffy musical set pieces; the innocent yet self-satisfied anatomical wisecracks; the midget jokes directed toward Verne Troyer (here playing the Leafs’ coach) and his stubby one-finger salute in response; a parade of pop-culture references ranging from the more-or-less current (Pitka’s mantra is “Mariska Hargitay”) to the considerably-older-than-his-target-audience (parodies of PBS’s “The Electric Company” and the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker”).
But the gags, even the funny ones, feel awfully tired this time around. American comedy has wandered in some interesting directions over the last decade, from the irony-free stylings of Will Ferrell to the tender obscenities of the Apatow Empire, but Myers hasn’t budged an inch. The endless winks at the camera look more desperate, the jokes at Troyer’s expense seem more tasteless. (At least in the Powers movies there was an explanation for his stature.) And this time out, there’s no Dr. Evil--the true star of the earlier franchise--to rescue the audience when the protagonist’s shtick wears thin.
A while back Myers told Entertainment Weekly, “What Jerry Seinfeld said about me is that I've managed to break the rules of all American parody: I parody things that Americans don't even know. It's been said of me that I can do comedy where comedy hadn't previously existed.” Not exactly. It’s true that the audience for Austin Powers wasn’t terribly familiar with such spy-spoof leading men as Derek Flint, Jason King, and the gonzo Bonds of the first Casino Royale, but all provided valuable models for Myers. More important, moviegoers were plenty aware of the tricks and tropes of the spy genre, and these elements--the villain bent on global domination, the too-clever-by-half executions, the required but infinitely replaceable Bond Girl--lent structure to Myers’s satire.
The Love Guru, by contrast, lacks grounding in any comparable genre and so meanders along with little sense of rhythm or continuity, haphazardly flashing forward and back and from setting to setting. A stronger director might have been able to shape this mess into something, but rookie Marco Schnabel seems out of his depth. (I’m not sure I’ve ever before watched a scene set on a jet that made so little effort to sustain the illusion that it was in flight--no engine hum, not the slightest hint of motion, nothing.)
Nor is the supporting cast much help. As in previous roles, Alba is little more than an animated mannequin, and Timberlake never manages to project the aggressive weirdness his Quebecois Casanova requires. Malco and Good are fine but forgettable as the hockey star and his wandering wife, and Ben Kingsley, who plays the guru’s guru, is given little to do beyond cross his eyes hard and fart repeatedly (Gandhi was a long time ago, indeed). Manu Narayan is excellent in the small role of Pitka’s assistant, and Stephen Colbert is intermittently hilarious as a deranged sportscaster (though his fellow “Daily Show” alum, John Oliver, is cast in a miserably unfunny straight role as Pitka’s manager).
The movie does have its amusements: Myers’s electric-sitar covers of such varied fare as “9 to 5” and “More than Words” have a certain hokey infectiousness, and now and then a given gag lands clean. (Sadly though, the funniest moment in the film may be a Verne Troyer outtake shown at the beginning of the credits.) Still, The Love Guru is impossible to recommend, not only on its own merits but on the basis of what might follow. After two Wayne’s Worlds, three Austin Powerses, and three Shreks, let me suggest we all avoid any behavior that might invite the diminishing returns of Guru 2: Sitar Boogaloo.
Christopher Orr is a senior editor of The New Republic.