Mike Myers has made a career of pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. For example, the American ratings system currently allows PG-13 films to use the f-word only once, maybe twice, and never in a sexual context; anything beyond that gets the R rating. But in one of the Austin Powers movies, the title character meets a couple of Asian women who seem to be asking him to do something to them and, if he is hearing them correctly, it would seem that they are using the f-word over and over again, and in a definitely sexual way. But then it turns out that they are actually telling him their names, which are spelled just a wee bit differently, so it's all, um, innocent, or something. And so the film remained PG-13 and—since the PG-13 rating is purely advisory and not enforceable—children of all ages could still go to the movie and share a snicker or two over this naughty bit of innuendo.
Myers dishes up more of the same in The Love Guru, his first live-action film since he starred in the seriously ill-advised The Cat in the Hat five years ago. This time, he plays Guru Pitka, an American raised in India who has moved back to the States—to Hollywood, specifically—and become a popular author, speaker and friend to the stars, delivering lectures that substitute trite acronyms and word games like "BIBLE = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" and "Intimacy = Into-Me-I-See" for anything of any real spiritual depth. But, as we learn in a flashback, Guru Pitka has been wearing a chastity belt since he was 12 years old, and he cannot take it off and enjoy the love of others until he has first learned how to love himself. So while the guru has built a reputation on boosting the self-esteem of others and on fixing other people's relationships, his brain is essentially stuck in preadolescence—look no further than his obsession with penis jokes throughout the film.
But since Guru Pitka is supposedly an expert on relationships, the central plot of this film—to the extent that it has one—revolves around his efforts to save the marriage of one Darren Roanoke (Baby Mama's Romany Malco), a black hockey player known as "the Tiger Woods of hockey," who has been off his game ever since his wife Prudence (Stomp the Yard's Meagan Good) left him for a goalie on another team, a French-Canadian named Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake). Jacques, incidentally, has a nickname that is synonymous with rooster—and indeed, his hockey mask bears an image of a rooster and his house is even guarded by a rooster—but of course, that isn't what his nickname refers to. Similarly, the coach who oversees Roanoke's team happens to bear the name Cherkov (Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer). And so it goes.
At any rate, Guru Pitka's motives in wanting to save the Roanokes' marriage are not entirely pure. First, he has been invited to do so by the owner of Darren's team, a woman named Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba), who is convinced that the team cannot win the Stanley Cup without Darren and that Darren cannot win on the ice unless his personal life is straightened out. Second, Guru Pitka has taken the case because he thinks it will boost his chances of winning a guest spot on Oprah's talk show, thus making him a bigger self-help celebrity than Deepak Chopra. So, for a while at least, the health of the Roanokes' marriage is important chiefly because others find it useful—but of course, somewhere along the way, the guru's priorities change.
It is interesting to compare The Love Guru to a film like, say, You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Both films feature Saturday Night Live alumni and a lot of raunchy humor, much of it based on the male sex organ, that could easily have tipped over into R-rated territory. Both films also allow their stars to dwell on issues that matter to them; for Sandler, it is Jewish culture and American politics, while for Myers, it is Canadian culture and Hollywood celebrity. Darren's team, which hasn't won a Stanley Cup in over 40 years, happens to be the Toronto Maple Leafs—or, as my dad used to call them, the Toronto Make-Believes—while Jacques frequently uses a French swear-word that is supposed to be the worst thing you can possibly say in Quebec, or so every child raised in English Canada is told. (That hasn't stopped the film from getting a G rating in Quebec, though.)
But the subject matter of Sandler's film is inherently more interesting than anything Myers might have to say about the shallowness of pop spirituality, and the moral of Sandler's film, such as it is, has lingered in my mind for the past few weeks, while I am writing this review mere hours after seeing The Love Guru and already I can feel it slipping out of my memory. There simply isn't a whole lot worth retaining here.
If, like me, you grow tired of films that rely on a non-stop stream of genitalia gags—with a few pee and poop jokes thrown in for good measure—then the relentlessly juvenile tone of The Love Guru certainly won't be for you. But the film is not entirely unfunny. There are chuckles to be had from the opening scene, in which a famous actor mocks himself without ever appearing onscreen, to the closing credits, where an outtake shows Troyer tossing off an unscripted quip that is funnier than just about anything that is said within the film itself. I also got a kick out of the Hockey Night in Canada segments that begin with the animated logos for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings violently bumping each other off; and Stephen Colbert throws in some weird, absurdist moments as a seriously out-of-control sports announcer.
But for the most part, this film is a waste of time. In one of his many bon mots, Guru Pitka promises to take his followers from "Nowhere" to "Now here." But too often, the gags leave you shrugging and thinking, "I guess you had to be there."Discussion starters
- The gurus in this film say you need to learn to love yourself before you can love others. Is that true?
- Do you think Guru Pitka is in a position to give advice to other people when he has not entirely succeeded in learning the lesson that his own guru gave him? How grown-up does someone have to be before he or she can help someone else to be a mature adult?
- As shallow as Guru Pitka's lessons are, is there anything we can learn from them? What about sayings like, "There is no such thing as failure, only early attempts at success"? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The Love Guru is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout (including frequent references to the male crotch, penis-shaped food items, and so on, as well as people playing with urine-soaked mops and animals leaving droppings outside buildings and copulating in public), language (some English four-letter words, a French curse word), some comic violence (a bar fight involves a lot of chairs being smashed over people's heads, and someone pulls a piece of glass out of his forehead) and drug references.
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