My Year Of Flops, Kicking A Man While He’s Down Case File #132: The Love Guru
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While researching this My Year Of Flops entry, I came across a 2006 New York Times article that time has rendered hilariously ironic. The article, titled “Mike Myers: Intentional Man Of Mystery,” depicts Myers as the Stanley Kubrick of lowbrow comedy, a master technician who’d rather disappear from the spotlight for years than compromise his meticulous comic vision. Like Gallo, Myers will serve no pee, masturbation, or nutsack joke before its time. The article describes Myers’ lengthy hiatus from appearing in front of movie cameras “as a bid to recharge his creative batteries as well as a reflection of his perfectionism and high standards.”
The article quotes Austin Powers director Jay Roach gushing, “Mike is the author of what he does. Like a novelist writing a novel over a few years, he thinks up all the details and all the layers necessary to make things work.” Pulitzer-winner Donald Margulies, a screenwriter of a long-in-gestation film that would cast Myers as Keith Moon, enthuses “Mike is a perfectionist in the best sense.”
Though Myers declined to be interviewed for the piece, it paints an overwhelmingly flattering portrait of him as a consummate artist methodically planning his next masterpiece, while less talented peers like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and Jim Carrey flood theaters with pandering, mediocre product. The implication is that they aren’t nearly as devoted to their craft as Myers.
Myers fans had reason to be optimistic, however, as the prickly superstar had already begun road-testing his latest genius creation in comedy clubs throughout Greenwich Village. He was a smiling, beatific, bearded guru named Pitka who would eventually become the focus of today’s MYOF entry, The Love Guru.
Though infinitely less flattering, a scathing Entertainment Weekly profile of Myers reiterates the Myers-as-genius perfectionist line. EW’s Josh Rottenberg writes that Myer’s “humor is based on artful contrivance, every detail machine-tooled with painstaking precision,” before quoting Love Guru producer Michael De Luca arguing, “Just because it’s comedy doesn’t mean it’s not as important to Mike as There Will Be Blood is to Paul Thomas Anderson.”
A smart, talented, accomplished writer-actor like Myers spending years meticulously creating, rehearsing, and refining an obnoxious one-note cartoon like Guru Pitka is a like a group of brilliant scientists working around the clock for a decade to build a malfunctioning fart machine: a surreal waste of time, energy and manpower. Yet Myers and his agent were so confident about the commercial prospects of his latest creation that they were discussing sequels with Paramount more than a year before filming began. Though far less prolific than his peers, Myers was a crucial component of three of the most successful comedy franchises of the past 20 years: Wayne’s World, Austin Powers, and Shrek. The stakes and expectations were extraordinarily high for 2008’s The Love Guru, his first foray in front of the cameras in five long years. If The Love Guru was half as successful as Shrek or Austin Powers,it would mean a fortune not just in ticket sales, but also dolls, videogames, merchandising, talking key chains, Broadway musicals, and various other useless crap.
The Love Guru was a potential bonanza from a $25 million dollar man accustomed to knocking it out of the park each at bat. Yet between the release of 2003’s underperforming The Cat In The Hat and The Love Guru,something curious happened: The public turned on Myers. The goodwill he engendered through Saturday Night Live, Wayne’s World, Austin Powers,and Shrek was squandered through a series of mercenary, money-grubbing sequels.
Myers was stupid enough to pick a very public fight with Ron Howard and his Imagine Entertainment juggernaut by pulling out of a proposed Sprockets film because he was unhappy with the screenplay. Here’s the fun part: Myers cost Imagine millions in pre-production costs and made an enemy of one of the most powerful people in Hollywood because he was unhappy with a screenplay he himself co-wrote. Mike Myers, movie star, was officially shit-canning Mike Myers, screenwriter. A certain level of self-hatred is to be expected from funny people, but that was taking it entirely too far. Not one to let bygones be bygones, Myers bitchily had Seth Green’s Goldmember heavy look more and more like Ron Howard with each passing scene. Myers really should have beefed publicly with a less revered icon than Howard—someone like, I dunno, Maya Angelou or the little dog that plays Benji.
As more and more details came out about Myers’ decades-long reign of jackassery—he reportedly wrote Dana Carvey out of early drafts of Wayne’s World so he wouldn’t have to share the spotlight with a more popular SNL castmate—he came to be seen less as a troubled comic genius and more like an asshole content to recycle the same tired shtick in film after film. Meanwhile, the Dresden-bombing-style publicity for The Love Guru made the tactical error of trying to sell Myers as a sensitive artist trying to create joy and laughter while recovering from a traumatic divorce and the death of a parent, all at a time when Myers’ reputation was getting hit from all sides, like in that scathing Entertainment Weekly profile, which depicts the ex-funnyman as worse than Hitler.
As part of a wildly unsuccessful attempt to rehabilitate his image, Myers dedicated The Love Guru to his father and called it a tribute to the goofball comedies they used to watch together. I know that my father and I have bonded more over our affection for Triumph The Insult Comic Dog than our shared love of Philip Roth. I learned early in life that I could make my dad laugh, and cultivated that ability at the expense of all others. Comedy certainly has the power to bring together fathers and sons, but the notion that Myers was making The Love Guru for his dear old dead dad certainly felt like a load of PR horseshit.
To give Myers his due, The Love Guru opens with an inspired gag. The sonorous sounds of Morgan Freeman gently usher audiences into the action before the camera pans down to reveal that Myers’ second-rate guru is speaking through the “Morgan Freeman” setting of a East India Voiceover Machine. It’s all downhill from there.
The disappointments begin with Stephen Colbert’s appearance as a sportscaster waging a wildly unsuccessful battle against his addictions to sex and peyote. It’s a running gag that’s brilliant in theory, but dies onscreen. Then comes the first of many, many dick jokes. Now, I am a big fan as well as a prolific disseminator of dick jokes. Dick jokes are my stock in trade. Dick jokes put food on my table. Dick jokes keep my apartment intermittently warm during the winter. (Damn you, malfunctioning radiators!) Dick jokes feed my imaginary family.
So it pains me to report that The Love Guru sets the art of the dick joke back centuries, to a time well before Chaucer and his great love of flatulence-based humor. The phallocentric gags begin with the nickname of Justin Timberlake’s character: Jacques “Le Coq” Grande. “[Grande] earned his nickname, ‘Le Coq,’ for reasons that cannot be stated on this program,” Colbert announces diplomatically, for folks too slow to figure out that Timberlake’s character has a giant penis. Before we get off the topic of dick jokes—I hear you, dear reader, are good for making jokes about your jimmy. But here's a jimmy joke about your mama that you might not like: I heard she was a Frisco dyke.
But enough foolishness. On to more foolishness. After establishing the film’s premise—foxy Toronto Maple Leafs owner Jessica Alba recruits neo-Eastern spiritualist Myers to fix the broken marriage of hockey star Romany Malco, so his team can make the Stanley Cup—Myers indulges in an endless, joke-light rendition of “9 To 5” that establishes a tone of insufferable self-indulgence.
Yet even in this morass of infantile lowbrow humor, moronic double entendres, and goofy-name gags, a few glimmers of inspiration remain. Take this flashback scene, for example. It is, for the most part, agonizingly awful and creepy on a visceral level. Myers’ doughy pudding head atop a small boy is an image that will haunt my nightmares. (It’s far creepier than anything in the Saw series.) But I liked the tiny moment when Ben Kingsley’s cross-eyed, wackily named mystic mentor Tugginmypudha quips that since Myers’ deceased parents were dog stylists before becoming missionaries, “They were into doggy-style before the missionary position.” Then Myers mumbles forlornly, “That’s hilarious. My parents are dead.”
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Ideally, catchphrases are inside jokes that everyone gets, and inspire a sort of joy in repetition. In The Love Guru,catchphrases and running gags wear out their welcome the first time around. When Myers introduced a zany acronym, I thought “Well, that’s mildly amusing.” By the 15th zany acronym, I was plotting elaborate ways to torture and murder everyone responsible for the film.
The same goes for the film’s other groan/migraine-inducing running gags: The use of “Mariska Hargitay” as a mystic greeting, shortness jokes directed at long-suffering comic foil Verne Troyer, convoluted pseudo-profound wordplay, and masturbation jokes involving Tugginmypudha.
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In Toronto, Myers sets about healing Malco’s troubled psyche through a program called DRAMA (short for Distraction, Regression, Adjustment, Maturity, Action). As evidenced by The 40-Year-Old Virgin and numerous Judd Apatow productions, Malco is a talented comic actor and nimble improviser, but The Love Guru reduces him to a neutered straight man. Alba, in sharp contrast, has proven herself to be a comic non-entity who’s utterly lost when called upon to do anything more than smile pretty and look good in skimpy clothing. And Troyer used to be Myers’ good-luck charm. Now he’s a sentient train wreck whose presence in any film is a grim omen.
The Love Guru barely passes the 80-minute mark, yet it still finds time for Myers to perform three, count ’em, three songs, including a perversely straight rendition of “More Than Words.” Help me out, readers—what’s the joke here? That Myers is playing a sitar? That they look goofy? It’s hard to believe this shit took three fucking years to write.
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Watching The Love Guru a second time while my colleagues all attended a preview screening of Watchmen—oh, the sacrifices of the professional cinematic masochist!—I warmed to it slightly. It took such a ferocious beating—most recently by triumphing , if that’s the right word at the Golden Raspberries, beating out Meet The Spartans, The Happening, Disaster Movie, In The Name Of The King,and The Hottie And The Nottie for worst picture—that it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for it. I found the film’s unrepentant silliness, bright colors, and cheerfulness mildly ingratiating, though far from chuckle-inducing.
It would be hard to imagine a bigger, more obvious target for spoofery than bogus spiritual teachers, but Myers never even aspires to satire. Deepak Chopra was an early, vocal supporter of the film when it came under fire from an outraged, publicity-seeking Hindu cleric apoplectic over its depiction of his religion. He repeatedly called for a boycott. He needn’t have bothered; The Love Guru’s ads and previews did a much better job of keeping audiences away then any boycott ever could. Unless it was led by Ron Howard. People love that guy. Only a fool would fuck with Opie.
It isn’t hard to see why Chopra dug the film; it’s less a spoof of his brand of quasi-Eastern mysticism than an 87-minute cinematic blowjob. Chopra, who has a cameo as himself, is depicted as the real deal, an authentic man of wisdom deeply committed to making the world a better place. Making a lowbrow comedy about synergy-happy gurus that doesn’t lay a fucking glove on Chopra is like making a raunchy comedy about televangelists that argues that guys like Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, and Pat Robertson are really just wonderful, selfless human beings who only want to help people.
But Myers is less interested in puncturing fake mysticism than in being the world’s oldest grade-school cut-up. That’s why his guru behaves throughout like a naughty 8-year-old in the midst of a Pixie Dust rush. Myers cracks endless smutty jokes, giggles at his own juvenile antics, laughs at himself even when he’s not cracking wise, and smiles his trademark idiot grin of beatific self-satisfaction.
There’s something faintly tragic about The Love Guru. It’s the work of a famously unhappy man intent on remaining a man-child onscreen forever. Myers is a cinematic Peter Pan thumbing his nose at the compromises of adulthood. Sublimely silly Myers vehicles like Wayne’s World and Austin Powers invite audiences to regress to childhood alongside their man-heroes. That’s a simultaneously seductive and poignant offer. Wayne Campbell and Austin Powers never have to grow up because they’re deliriously happy the way they are. But The Love Guru makes a terrible case for perpetual pre-adolescence. It offers all the stupidity and immaturity, with none of the fun or innocence.
I still hold out hope for Myers. He’s made us laugh before. It’s possible, if not probable, that he will make us laugh again. Hopefully he will learn from The Love Guru. I will end this piece as it began, with the deliciously ironic final paragraph from the New York Times piece lamenting Myers’ regrettable absence from the big screen, and the shimmering promise of a spectacular return to film:
“For another year, then, at least, audiences will have to make do with Mr. Myers’s voice as the big green ogre in Shrek The Third, his physical absence made easier by the notion that they’ve been spared the blighted vintages that might well have been the Myers product of 2004, 2005 or 2006 — and that he’s continuing to work, however deliberately, on a splendid ’08.”
Yeah, not so much. As us Chicago baseball fans like to say, there’s always next year.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Failure