Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Love Guru (2008) Review: Ensemble Problems

Mike Meyers was once unstoppable at the movie theaters whether it was Austin Powers, Wayne's World, or Shrek. When you look at how quickly both audiences and critics passed over The Love Guru so quickly, however, it's pretty clear that the Mike Meyers brand of comedy isn't what it once was. I'm not sure whether the cause is one too many Shreks, the stinging failure of the Cat in the Hat, or maybe his being eclipsed by Will Ferrell and the brat pack, but that's just the way popularity works in Hollywood.

Having had the benefit (or the misfortune, if you look at it that way) of watching it after every other critic has already slammed it, I will go on record as saying that the movie isn't that bad. The basic premise, revolving around the quest of an overly commercialized self-help guru to become famous enough to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show through curing a star hockey player of his lovesickness, is one with potential. It's hard to say whether Mike Meyers' comic creation of Guru Pitka even has enough steam to have lasted multiple sketches as a popular character of SNL. His giggly demeanor can be kind of amusing, and his system of acronyms for everything and series of book titles that fit conviniently into conversation are funny in the same way that Austin Powers' non-stop barrage of double entendres are: They wear you down until you're consumed with silliness.

One thing that that is certain is that on Saturday Night Live, Meyers' old breeding ground, he would have had enough help to lift his character off the ground. Meyers doesn't really have any all-stars in his ensemble who can do that. Romany Malco (Weeds, Baby Mama) as the star hockey player of the Toronto Maple Leafs seems largely unaware that he's in a comedy and does little to play off Meyers' persona. Aside from being a black eubonic-speaking hockey player, a sight gag only good the first time you see him, there's nothing he really adds to the humor of the script nor does he do much as a straight man (which dimply requires him to react to Meyers). Justin Timberlake has had his moments on SNL but that was mostly as a result of good writers and the fact that as a pop star he had low expectations. It was a little much to expect him to bring a lot to the table as the second or third-billed star of the film (Did anyone think that him singing Celine Dion or talking about a Quebec Pizza were really that funny?). Verne Troyer is probably in the cast because inserting midget jokes seems to be Mike Meyers' go-to solution for not being able to think of anything funny to write. Jessica Alba is obviously ok as eye candy but someone who can play the leading lady with a little bit more of a tounge-in-cheek angle could have helped. Ben Kingsley was funnier than I expected but what was I expecting of Ben Kingsley to begin with? So in the end, Meyers surrounded himself with friends and novelty items (he became friends with Timberlake from the Shrek movies, for example) and that reeks of just a hint of vanity in thinking he could carry the movie by himself. The only solid role player in the film was John Oliver who's dry wit actually made him quite good as a straight man.