Every summer, the movies require us to suspend our disbelief. This season, we have been told that a weapons designer could escape terrorists by building himself a kick-ass iron suit; that a sexagenarian adventurer could survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge; and that Sex and the City’s Samantha could double as a sushi platter. But even given all that, The Love Guru asks a lot of us: namely, to buy the idea the Toronto Maple Leafs would ever be playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Relentlessly puerile yet also painfully sincere, The Love Guru is a strange movie by anyone’s standards.
Perhaps Mike Myers – a spiritual sort of guy ever since he made the acquaintance of Deepak Chopra – presents this scenario as a positive visualization exercise on behalf of his hometown team. Or maybe he’s just suggesting that the Leafs would be better off if they were owned by Jessica Alba. Alba plays Jane Bullard, who enlists the help of a spiritual adviser named Guru Pitka (Myers) — a figure who seems like a combination of Chopra, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Benny Hill — to soothe the nerves of star player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco).
It was risky for Myers to go heavy on the hockey angle — Hollywood comedies tend not to feature much ice time for the very good reason that Americans have little interest in the sport. Then again, The Love Guru contains a variety of things – Bollywood parodies, new-age aphorisms, clichés about French-Canadians, the sight of two elephants humping — that usually have no place in movies premised on a series of dick jokes.
Relentlessly puerile yet also painfully sincere, The Love Guru is a strange movie by anyone’s standards. Co-written by Myers with Graham Gordy, it’s obviously a deeply personal project, touching on the comedian’s own methods of self-healing after the traumatic death of his father in 1991 and the collapse of his marriage in 2005. It’s also steeped in his preferred mode of comedy, which relies heavily on absurd sight gags, goofy wordplay and the sort of pee-pee-ca-ca humour so popular with your inner child. Nevertheless, audiences who do not share Myers’s fantasy about a Leafs triumph or his affection for Chopra’s mix of self-help sloganeering and lite Eastern mysticism will likely be stupefied by The Love Guru.
Some Hindus will also be none too pleased about the early scenes that portray Guru Pitka’s education in India. The orphan son of western missionaries, Pitka becomes the student of Guru Tugginmypudha (a cross-eyed Sir Ben Kingsley), who teaches him lessons in peace, love and the wielding of mops drenched in urine. Unfortunately, the young Pitka also develops a deep-rooted envy of Chopra, his more successful classmate.
Unsatisfied with his lavish Los Angeles ashram or the popularity of bestsellers like If You’re Happy and You Know It, Think Again, Guru Pitka longs for the kind of market penetration made possible by an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. "If I get on Oprah, I’m the next Deepak Chopra!" he exclaims to his agent Dick Pants (The Daily Show’s John Oliver). But to get there, he must cure Roanoke of his hang-ups and reunite him with his wife, Prudence (Meagan Good), who’s taken up with well-endowed goaltender Jacques "Le Coq" Grande (Justin Timberlake).
Depending on your perspective, seeing Timberlake in a greasy moustache grumbling "tabernac!" and offering his lover a "Quebec pizza" (a Pop Tart with ketchup) is either one of the film’s highlights or lowlights. If only there were more of the same. Myers’s barrage of scatological and penile-obsessed gags is more wearisome than endearing. Whenever Guru Pitka is not offering Alba’s character exotic dishes with names like "Nuts in a Sack," he’s tricking Roanoke into being a "ball gazer." Verne ("Mini-Me") Troyer is on hand so Myers can toss in more tired jokes about Hobbits and gnomes. Such is the level of maturity here that a wild, Mel Brooks-style bar fight is the height of comedic sophistication. The same goes for the Bollywood-style song-and-dance numbers set to covers of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 and Steve Miller’s The Joker.
But the weirdest thing about The Love Guru is that underneath all the ludicrous and vulgar humour is the same brand of soft-sell spiritualism that fills Chopra’s straight-faced books. (Myers contributed a foreword to his friend’s latest release, Why Is God Laughing?) While the movie spoofs the self-help movement’s predilection for goofy acronyms (EIEIO and BLOWME are two of Guru Pitka’s favourites), it places greater stock in the one that it repeats most often: DRAMA, which stands for Distraction, Regression, Adjustment, Maturity and Action. It is by this method that Guru Pitka ultimately helps Roanoke, returning him to his "shame centre" and allowing him to heal himself after he confronts his demanding mother. It’s a process that Myers obviously deems of great value. In interviews, he’s likened The Love Guru to a Flintstones vitamin pill: something that tastes good and is good for you.
But because the often mawkish self-help prattle makes for a poor fit with such incessantly lowbrow humour, it can’t help but feel condescending. It’s jarring for a flattering cameo by Chopra to be immediately followed by a Keebler elf joke about Troyer. Is the road to enlightenment really paved with so much egregious stupidity? And if it is, are you sure we can’t take another route?
The Love Guru opens across Canada on June 20.
Jason Anderson is a writer based in Toronto.