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Love hurts 

Get smart and avoid painful comedy

If I had ever entertained the notion that Mike Myers would some day make another movie as awful as the infamous live-action version of The Cat In the Hat, I might have opted for early retirement long before the fact. Yet here comes The Love Guru, and it matches that Dr. Seuss bastardization step for step when it comes to thinking up evil ways to torture audience members. I daresay that even a splinter in the eyeball would be less painful than sitting through this debacle.

Myers, who also co-wrote (with Graham Gordy) what we'll loosely refer to as the screenplay, stars as Guru Pitka, an American-born, Indian-raised spiritual leader who's miffed that he constantly places second to Deepak Chopra when it comes to the popularity of self-help gurus (and, yes, Chopra appears as himself in a cameo). As children, both Pitka and Chopra were taught by -- say it fast to get the "joke" -- Guru Tugginmypudha, a cross-eyed (from too much masturbation, of course) instructor who trains his young charges by urinating in a bucket and then making his pupils fight each other with piss-saturated mops.

Tugginmypudha is played by none other than Ben Kingsley, who 25 years ago won an Oscar for playing the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. This isn't quite as depressing as when Robert De Niro raped our memories of Taxi Driver by repeating his "You talking to me?" line in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, but it comes close.

At any rate, Pitka is given a golden opportunity to pass Chopra in mass appeal when he's hired by Toronto Maple Leafs owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba, and you know you're in trouble when she's one of the more tolerable aspects of a movie) to patch matters up between the hockey team's star player, Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), and his estranged wife Prudence (Meagan Good), who lately has been stepping out with the enormously endowed Los Angeles Kings goalie Jacques "Le Coq" Grande (Justin Timberlake). And yes, every time Le Coq pulls out le cock, we predictably hear a thud as it hits the floor.

In fact, predictability is a rampant problem, as a substantial amount of gags can be guessed before they even finish coagulating. When Pitka's parents are revealed to have been dog groomers before becoming missionaries, we count the seconds until Tugginmypudha cracks about how they were into doggie style before they switched to the missionary position. And because there's some law that every bad movie involving Canada has to include a Celine Dion gag, you can bet it will be revealed that Le Coq's a huge fan of the chirpy Canuck.

That's not to say every joke is apparent before the fact. I didn't expect to see two elephants copulating on screen. Or Pitka pull a cue stick out of his ass and smell it. Or Pitka literally shove his head up said ass while demonstrating yoga positions. Or Pitka describe an excited person's underwear as full of "monkey mustard." (For the record, The Love Guru earned a PG-13 rating, yet one more example that the morons on the MPAA board are either senile, blind or on the take.)

For months, Hindu groups have been protesting this film's release and calling for a ban. I'm surprised the outfit Little People of America hasn't joined them, given the amount of jokes aimed at Verne Troyer, the diminutive actor who plays Maple Leafs coach Cherkov (rhymes with "jerk off"; get it, huh, get it?). Troyer takes more abuse here than he ever did as Mini-Me opposite Myers' Austin Powers, being held up by Pitka as if he were an Oscar statue and subjected to insults involving Hobbits and the Keebler elves. Blatantly non-P.C. humor can certainly be funny (see: Mel Brooks, Monty Python, select Farrelly Brothers), but when it fails to deliver the laughs (the case here), it merely comes across as pathetic and mean-spirited and more than a little embarrassing.

And speaking of embarrassing, what's Stephen Colbert doing in this travesty? He plays a drug-addled sports announcer, and let's just hope his ill-advised participation doesn't cost him any liberal goodwill. Couldn't they have offered the part to the venal Bill O'Reilly instead?

GET SMART, THE HIT TV sitcom that aired from 1965 to 1970, was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and these legendary funnymen are listed in the credits of the new motion picture spin-off Get Smart as "creative consultants." The word is that neither of them actually had any input in what turns up on the screen, which probably explains why major facets of this motion picture differ from what fans fondly recall about the show. But in at least one respect, there's a striking similarity: Both have no problem providing the laughs.

In the series that ran during the heyday of the Cold War, Don Adams starred as bumbling agent Maxwell Smart while Barbara Feldon played his more competent partner, Agent 99. Working for a CIA-inspired government outfit known as C.O.N.T.R.O.L., the secret agents had their hands full protecting the world from the nefarious schemes perpetrated by the members of the rival outfit K.A.O.S.

This new version does away with the Cold War backdrop, though there's also no mention of the War on Terror or 9/11 or any other unpleasantness soiling this modern world. In fact, except for a snarky comment about liberal Hollywood stars and the sight of James Caan as a dim bulb president who can't pronounce the word "nuclear," there's very little real-world relevance, which is just fine. Instead, the well-worn plot finds K.A.O.S. head Siegfried (Terence Stamp, taking over Bernie Kopell's role from the series) threatening to destroy the world unless he gets paid a substantial sum, and the movie seems as much a James Bond spoof as a Get Smart homage, especially in the sequences involving a giant goon manhandling Maxwell (a la Richard Kiel as Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker).

Carell, whose Maxwell Smart is (slightly) more intelligent than Don Adams', and Hathaway are well-paired, and there are choice supporting stints by Alan Arkin as The Chief and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the macho Agent 23. (And watch out for the cameo by a classic-era Saturday Night Live player, as the lonely agent in the tree.) All of the performers are given a scene or two in which to shine -- even Masi Oka, imported from the Heroes TV show to play a C.O.N.T.R.O.L. computer nerd -- although most of the best set pieces belong to the two stars. There's a ballroom sequence involving Maxwell and a hefty dance partner that's surprisingly sweet-natured -- for once, a movie honors an overweight person rather than simply making fun -- while Agent 99 gets off a nice monologue that culminates in a sentimental mention of her mother. Sure, these bits hardly sound like gutbusters, but therein lies much of the appeal of this big-screen Get Smart. In between all the gags and all the action scenes, there's an identifiable human element at work, and this empathy prevents this from being just another big, dumb summer comedy.

ACTION FILMS ARE by definition loud and chaotic, but here's one so hyperactive, it makes titles like Live Free or Die Hard and The Bourne Ultimatum seem as staid as Atonement by comparison.

Based on the graphic novel series, Wanted initially feels like an unofficial remake of Fight Club, as cubicle nobody Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy, speaking of Atonement) narrates how he's been beaten down by his mundane, miserable existence (cheating girlfriend, obnoxious boss, dead-end job). Into his life walks not Tyler Durden but Fox (Angelina Jolie), a tattooed beauty who insists that he's been targeted for elimination by the same man (Thomas Kretschmann) who recently killed his father. Fox soon introduces Wesley to The Fraternity, a clandestine outfit made up entirely of assassins and led by the cordial Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Shucking aside any moral qualms rather quickly, Wesley joins the group, in the process learning that he possesses untapped skills that make him a natural for this line of work.

Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, best known for the visually striking yet dramatically inert Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch) and its sequels, has crafted a slam-bang feature that revels in its own ridiculousness: To criticize the movie's outlandish situations would be to miss the whole point of Bekmambetiv's exercise in excess. Still, the script's twists and turns aren't nearly as clever as writers Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan pretend (the secret involving Wesley's dad is pretty transparent), and after a while, the movie's gleeful approach to nihilism proves wearying.

To see the trailers for The Love Guru and Get Smart, go to www.theclogblog.com.

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