The Love Guru

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After the "Austin Powers" trilogy, there was a sense that comedian Mike Myers had elevated his game. Working with a character in three movies, he evolved the series from slapdash skits into real movies that had connective tissue and continuing characters. "Love Guru" is a regressive step in the extreme. Not only does the film stumble badly from one skit to another, the skits themselves have too much dead air. Neither Myers nor a group of hesitant actors -- who seem more like an endless number of sidekicks than supporting players -- show much confidence in the material. They seem to deliver lines or perform bits so they may quickly duck the rotten tomatoes surely headed their way.

Two film comedies go head-to-head this weekend, "Love Guru" and "Get Smart," which is anything but smart on the studios' part. But the real question is which is the worst?

Quite possibly, "Love Guru" will out-awful "Get Smart." Myers' name should ensure a respectable No. 2 finish, but all bets are off the following weekend.

The basic problem with "Love Guru," as it was for "Get Smart," is the filmmakers never define the central joke. Myers plays Guru Pikta, the Number Two Near-Eastern Self-Help Specialist. (Deepak Chopra is Number One.) This inspires all sort of spoofs of self-help mumbo jumbo, inane mantras, Bollywood dances and Beatles-era costumes. These almost get lost, though, amid serendipitous gags involving urination and defecation, elephants, ice hockey and penis size. Not to mention Verne Troyer, the little person who played Mini-Me in two "Austin Powers" films, who here is the butt of endless size jokes as well.

Oddly, Myers entrusted his first film with a new character to a rookie director, Marco Schnabel, who directed second unit on all three "Austin Powers" films. Schnabel not only lacks visual flair and the ability to pull together a style to link the skits, but he is probably too young and inexperienced to help Myers edit himself. When, say, one in four gags hit with any force, there is a need for serious editing.

Guru Pitka is hired by Toronto Maple Leafs owner (Jessica Alba) to reunite her star player (Romany Malco) with his wife (Meagan Good), who is shacked up with Los Angeles Kings goalie, Jacques "Le Coq" Grande (Justin Timberlake), which on the eve of the NHL's Stanley Cup Finals has sent her player's game into the toilet. This tissue-thin plot gets interrupted for flashbacks to Pitka's guru classes at an Indian ashram by an exalted cross-eyed guru played by Ben Kingsley.

A good actor is a terrible thing to waste, but this profligate film totally marginalizes Kingsley, Alba, Good and Malco. Timberlake fares not too badly because he has a fun caricature to play, a Quebecois goalie with a huge crush on Celine Dion and an even larger physical endowment. The only actor who really scores is news talk show/comic Stephen Colbert, who plays a drug-addled, sex-addicted hockey broadcaster. He is absolutely hysterical.

opens: Friday, June 20 (Paramount). production: Paramount, Spyglass Entertainment, a Nomoneyfun Films/Michael De Luca production. Cast: Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, Romany Malco, Meagan Good, Omid Djalili, Ben Kingsley. Director: Marco Schnabel. Screenwriters: Mike Myers, Graham Gordy. Producers: Michael De Luca, Mike Myers. Executive producers: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Donald J. Lee Jr.

Director of photography: Peter Deming; Production designer: Charles Wood; Music: George S. Clinton; Costume designer: Karen Patch; Editors: Lee Haxall, Gregory Perler, Billy Weber.

Rated PG-13, 87 minutes.

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