Friday, February 28, 2003

The Guru / 1/2* (2003)

The funniest moment in "The Guru" comes just a hair before the closing credits begin to roll, when a fireman rushes over to a nearby church, interrupts a wedding, and professes his undying love for the groom. The comical timing of this particular moment is so spot-on and alive, it's a wonder that it even exists at all in a film that is almost completely devoid of any sense of laughter. For a good long hour, the movie continuously holds the impulse of delivering its jokes in an uncomfortable and unamusing way, when suddenly a gag like this erupts from out of nowhere. A bit shocking, of course, but it saves this incredibly bad endeavor from falling into that ever-so-dreaded "zero star" club, if only just barely. Don't make too much fuss about it, but know that there is, at least, a shred light at the end of this long and dark tunnel of amateurism. As for the movie itself—it's complete trash, a clunky, idiotic, laughless and amateurish collection of scenes targeted to people who have the intellect of mattress springs. Standard defects of an idiot romance plot, including the notion that any guy can get every woman in a room simply by pretending to be someone else, garnish nearly every frame of celluloid, but the picture only wishes it could maintain characters with any level of low-end intelligence. Every face that passes through the camera lens, in fact, is wasted; the screen personas we have to endure aren't just clueless morons, but dissonant ones as well. At least most idiots in these kinds of plots pop a few brain cells every now and then.

The star of this relentless nightmare is Jimi Mistry, a relatively new actor who may be headed down a road that most actors probably would rather avoid in attempt to jump-start a film career. He plays Ramu Gupta, a native of India who teaches old women to do the Macarena and fantasizes about seeing a dubbed version of "Grease" when he was a kid. Towards the open of the movie, Ramu packs up his things, says good-bye to loved ones, and heads for the United States with the dream of becoming wealthy. Luckily, friends are there to welcome him to the "land of opportunity," but much to his dismay, they quickly stress the prospect that success is not so easily achieved by people of their ethnicity (what jobs beyond a waiter and a cab driver can their be for Indian men in the big city?) Ramu's response to that harsh reality: "I don't want it to be easy—I just want a chance."

Needless to say, he gets the opportunity in a rather offbeat way. While he and his friends are catering a big birthday party for the bratty but spiritually-enhanced Lexi (Marisa Tomei), the night's primary guest—an Indian guru—collapses after taking in too much liquor. Ramu is quickly thrown into the role before the guru's expected big entrance, but what exactly does this simple Indian guy know about life that a bunch of high society people would want to hear? Nothing substantial, other than some advice given to him earlier in the day by a porn star named Sharonna (Heather Graham), with whom Ramu was ready to make an adult video with. Surprisingly, the audience takes these creative metaphors and speeches about the power of sex quite seriously, and before he knows it, the guy is finding his way up the latter of success under the guise of an authentic Indian guru. What will Sharonna say, however, when she finds out that all her well-guarded ideas are being flaunted around in front of the public by the guy who got them from her?

The key to any of this being funny is our ability to care, and frankly, the material is about as interesting as piles of road kill. Isolated scenes that feature any type of interaction between Ramu and a woman lack any chemistry whatsoever, while dialogue treads dangerously on the line separating dumb from pathetic (an example of the insipid parley: "I'm a cab driver—I can get to Bombay in 15 minutes."). Beyond the two central roles, furthermore, there really doesn't even seem to be much of a point for the supporting characters, other than to give the main ones a chance to interact with someone considerably less interesting and intelligent than themselves. Michael McKean's Dwain, for example, is a scab in this film's realm of warped humanity, while Tomei's Lexi is childish, annoying, loud and disruptive without actually ever having dimension.

And what of the jokes? Some of them are shocking, most of them just plain annoying and unfunny. In the right frame of mind or under the dictation of a decent script, there is no reason to believe all of this couldn't at least spark a laugh or two, though; throughout the entire 94-minute ordeal, we even get things like a scene where Ramu's guru guise is telling old people to unleash their sexual energies through masturbation. Alas, it's all sideline primarily by a clich├ęd, dimwitted and utterly stupid romance plot that builds to a predictable close when Ramu has a personal epiphany outside the Sally Jesse Raphael show studios right before he's scheduled to appear on her talk show. Something tells me the joke is on him, though; if he did his homework, he'd know that Sally's show was canceled last season.''

Written by DAVID KEYES

Cast & Crew info:
Jimi Mistry: Ramu Gupta
Heather Graham: Sharonna
Marisa Tomei: Lexi
Michael McKean: Dwain
Dash Mihok: Rusty
Emil Marwa: Vijay

Produced by Tim Bevan, Liza Chasin, David Crockett, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Shekhar Kapur and Michael London; Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer; Screenwritten by Tracey Jackson

Comedy (US); Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, and for language; Running Time - 94 Minutes

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