For the Love of God: A Belly-Flop for The Love Guru
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 16, 2008
Hope we at least get a “More Than Words” revival out of it
The first time I saw the Love Guru trailer was in the previews for Iron Man a few weeks ago. It was a Friday afternoon, and the theater was full of the crowd you’d expect for such a movie at such a time–males between the ages of 16 and 28, and ones likely without the most discerning of taste. It might not have been the target audience for The Love Guru, whose arrival I had dreaded since the posters first appeared in the New York subways, but it was close enough that I figured there would be at least a couple moments that the audience would inevitably find much funnier than I would. Yet as the predictably cringeworthy trailer unfolded, a miracle occured–no one laughed. There wasn’t a single moment that made even most of the crowd chortle, and I could probably count the times I heard laughter emit from any corner on one hand. I don’t know if I had significantly underestimated the crowd in attendance, or if the Love Guru preview really was just THAT BAD, but at that moment, I had faith in the mediating powers of pop culture.
Encouraging though this was, the media blitz of Love Guru still has me a little worried. Us pop watchers learn to put up with a lot of crap in our travails–such is the nature of the beast, and you’d be quickly driven to madness if you expected every summer jam to be an “Umbrella,” every breakout TV show to be a LOST, every Denzel Washingotn and Russell Crowe showdown to be a Virtuosity. But I believe it equally important that from time to time, we draw a line in the sand when it comes to certain things–movies, songs, TV shows, whatever–that if we truly believe in the essential goodness of pop culture, we have to say that such things can not be a success, lest the system lose our faith. Admittedly, it’s a one-sided agreement, and when it backfires, it can really hurt–when “Laffy Taffy” and “You’re Beautiful” went to #1 within a month of each other back in 2006, it almost made me foresake the charts altogether-but more times than not, the system rewards your faith, and in your mind, at least, you feel you played your part in not letting pop culture run about completely unchecked.
Needless to say, The Love Guru is a potential boundary-crosser for me, and I’m not entirely positive that the general public will be able to shrug it off. From the trailers, it seems like the movie’s humor is grounded in four things–Borat-style East-West culture clashes (Myers takes his elephant on a plane, where it is bigger than the other animals on the plane!), PG-13 rated crude humor (the term “smuggling a schnauzer” is used at least once), Hockey (particularly that successful, vibrant franchise the Toronto Maple Leafs), and Myers’ comedic mugging (would the trailer even be a minute long if you took out all the shots of Myers reacting to his own jokes?) This is all fair enough, and not terribly threatening–Myers is no longer a recognizable and beloved enough figure to sell the movie strictly on his own personality (including his Canadian LOL love of hockey), the crude humor seems too low-scale (i.e., no pie fornication or elborate penis drawings) to be particularly effective, and Myers can’t keep a straight face long enough to possibly sell the Baron-Cohen-type stuff.
What does worry me, somewhat, are the movie’s backup plans–the sort of insurance policies that, to Myers and his co-conspirators’ credit, they were smart enough to take out lest the movie’s central comedic conceits not deliver on the level expected. There’s Meagan Good and Jessica Alba–arguable as two of the 25 hottest actresses on the planet–as the female leads, and in a movie about sex, the fact that the PG-13 rating means no shot at nudity might not even be enough of a deterrent for some. Then there’s Stephen Colbert as the off-kilter color man announcer–a role seemingly obligatory in comedy since Fred Willard in Best in Show, and one which carries a certain inherent comedic credibility. Then there’s Justin Timberlake, the biggest pop star in the country, playing against type as…uh, some goofy French guy, I guess, which I’m sure will be a hilarious contrast with the JT we know and love. And finally, there’s that ultimate comedic slam-dunk guarantee–midget humor, courtesy of the Laurence Olivier of midget humor, Verne Troyer.
Will they be enough to propel The Love Guru into the comedy blockbuster promised land? It’s hard for me to tell, largely because all the successes Myers has had so far in film have been so unpredictable. I mean, Wayne’s World might’ve worked as an SNL sketch, but given their limited content (two guys in a basement making lists on public access?) and the small percentage of such sketches that spun off into successful movies (though I guess Hollywood wouldn’t find that out until a few years later), it’s remarkable the two flicks worked nearly as well as they did. And Austin Powers? Who could have possibly guessed that a parody of old James Bond movies, the Swinging 60s and British culture (and teeth) in general with a confusing title, enigmatic previews and a still largely commercially unproven leading man would have been anything but a disaster? Even Shrek, the first mainstream cartoon flick to be completely post-modern, could’ve easily been a Ratatouille style commercial underwhelmer.
But then again, take away these three movies, and the sequels they spawned, and what exactly has Mike Myers done of note in the last 15 years? I mean, So I Married an Axe Murderer was pretty OK, but it hardly put up record numbers at the box office. Besides that, you’ve got, what, Cat in the Hat? A View From the Top? 54? Myers is completely feast or famine with his box office success–he has no minor hits or small parts in even modest box office successes, and only seems to have success in these easily franchiseable characters, which end up grossing in the hundred-millions. Myers seems to have enough pattern recognition to sense this, and it’s obvious that with The Love Guru, Myers hopes to introduce a fourth definitive franchise character to his repertoire.
I’d like to dismiss the chance, to say that it’s both too late and too lame for Myers–aside from his voice, he’s been out of the spotlight for a long time, and I’d think teen and pre-pubescent males would have newer, fresher comedic heroes by now. But keeping the shocking success of Austin Powers in mind–which somehow also turned out to be a great movie, the first one at least–I don’t know if I can be totally confident that this won’t turn out similarly (minus the ‘turning out to be a great movie’ part, anyway, since I’m fairly positive that isn’t on the horizon). But I am drawing that line in the sand. Now I guess I just gotta have faith.