Pros: Michael McKean, Marisa Tomei. Some fun, almost parody stagings of Bollywood musical numbers.
Cons: The plot, the script, the direction, the pacing.
Virgin Screenwriter Tracey Jackson no doubt had THE GURU in mind, as an idea, for over a decade. How else can one explain its fetid attempts to entertain us, its combination of smarmy and hoary situations drawn from yesterday's sensationalism? The smarm must waft off BOOGIE NIGHTS (Anderson, 1997), and the sensationalism? Perhaps the script was lying around too long in the desk drawers of Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer (PARTY GIRL, 1995; MADELINE, 1998). So stale and derivative is it that one expects THE GURU to have at least an opening scene set in Studio 54.
No, instead it begins in Delhi, where a little boy in a movie palace, bored with the Bollywood choice of his parents, slips next door to dream of being John Travolta in GREASE (Kleiser, 1978). Years pass, and we find the boy has grown up to be Ramu Gupti (Jimi Mystry), now a rather avuncular dance instructor. He is teaching a group of mature Hindu matrons . . . "The Macarena"!!
Not for long. He soon buzzes off to join his cousin, Vijay (Emil Marwa), in New York, where "the streets are paved with gold," everyone "drives a Ferrari," and Rammi (as he becomes known) can "fullfil the American Dream." Reality, of course, is always somewhat different. Cousin Vijay drives a cab, works as a waiter, and lives with several buddies in a small apartment above an Adult Movie house. Rammi settles in to being a waiter, too, just until he can blast off to stardom, but a New York restaurant patron's bigoted complaint prompts him to dump a bowl of Curry on the man's head.
And so, Rammi has to find something else to do.
Aha! Become a porn star! But he doesn't know what that is. It doesn't matter. A quick flash of his Macarena convinces Writer/Director Dwain (multi-talented Michael McKean). [Only our Hero has a second name in this movie.] Before you can say John Holmes, Rammi, in a grass skirt, is on a desert island movie set, being warmed up by a black cross-dressing guy. The star of the movie? Why, naturally, it's Heather Graham (BOGGIE NIGHTS, Anderson, 1997), playing Sharonna, an investigative reporter in a little black mini-skirted dress. Rammi is clearly attracted to Sharonna, but what with the lights, the camera, the boom-man and all, he develops "wood trouble."
Wouldn't you know, that is right up Sharonna's alley, for she is really working her way through college in psychology and secondary education (or something)?? Not only that but she is buying a house in the suburbs. She also has a big, blond fireman boyfriend, who comes of a traditional Irish-Catholic family, and knows nothing about how she makes her living . . . . Never mind. She helps Rammi with his droopy-wood handicap by intoning her New Age philosophy: "I think of myself as a Rosebud about to open." Etc.
Rammi is able to apply this original wisdom in a practical way, when Vijay manages a catering side job for him at a Fifth Avenue mansion. An old Guru, part of "the entertainment package," takes too much British Courage (or at least whisky) and passes out. Rammi is dressed in robes and turban by the boss, Vijay, and his desperate buddies, in order to "save face" with their patrons.
In this un-radical chic family, enthralled with spirits mystical, poor beautiful but sexually repressed Lexi (Marisa Tomei) is locked, a weeping Society princess, in the bathroom. Neither her mother, Chantal (Christine Baranski) nor her husband knows what to do for her. Eureka! (or rather, Macarena!) No sooner than Rammi improvises on Sharonna's philosophy, and teaches the party that ancient Indian dance he knows so well, than Lexi, with a charming blush, feels her rosebud blooming. And not long after that, Rammi's wood begins to grow straight and true.
Understandably, in a movie like this one, after Lexi practically rapes him in her classy fashion, Rammi realizes that it is his porn partner, Sharonna, whom he really loves . . . .
THE GURU may be the worst Musical I've seen since *MOULIN ROUGE (Luhrmann, 2001). (At least, there is no question of a 56 million dollars having been spent on it, and recycled Billy Joel songs replace Elton John.) The dialogue Miss Jackson gives the players sounds revised from a risque juvenile romance she wrote in high school. Daisy von Scherler Mayer does not so much block her actors as pose them, place them in tableaux, or set them dancing in insane parodies of Hindi movies (themselves parodies). The vulgarity of it all is made more embarrassing by the awkwardness of how it's all presented. A good porn director would have done it better.
Vivian, my sneak preview companion, gamely protested that she enjoyed THE GURU, even though she may have forgotten that I had to rouse her once or twice from snoring. No less game were tiny Heather Graham, a tam on her blonde head, dressed in what looked like that little black mini-skirted suit, and sheer black tights; and watch-capped Jimi Mistry (EAST IS EAST, O'Donnell, 1999), who gives evidence of being typed as a native-born East Indian; he was born in Yorkshire, raised in South London, and talks like a Cockney. They both, giving wry smiles or nervous giggles, told us what a great film they thought THE GURU was.
[It occurs to me, when I note THE GURU was shot by John Borman, who performed the honors for THE FULL MONTY (Catteneo, 1997), that THE GURU may be an American entry in a recent line which includes BRASSED OFF (Herman, 1996), *GREENFINGERS (Hershman, 2000), and *LUCKY BREAK (Catteneo, 2001). These movies involve a poor guy and his pals who make good in an unusual profession. THE GURU takes this formula to its lowest common denominator.]
What is particularly sad is the waste of talent. I never have quite understood the cachet that Heather Graham carries as an actress, but she certainly deserves better roles than that of Sharonna. Christine Baranski, a star of stage and TV, (after having her song slashed from CHICAGO) has to do reaction shots to her husband's dropping his towel. Most egregeous of all, Marisa Tomei, who was nominated for an Academy Award last year, who recently played Salome to Al Pacino's Herod on Broadway, must do what she can with the underwritten unfortunate role of Lexi. That she manages to keep her dignity, look fetching, and has a few good scenes is a small triumph.
The IMDb informs me that THE GURU is doing good business in Europe and the Far East. In fact, in the preview audience, Asians (who seem to be the niche group this film is directed at) seemed to enjoy it, perhaps for the wrong reasons.
I don't want to be stuffy, but my advice to you is to avoid THE GURU.
For my reviews of some movies mentioned above go to the following links:
*LUCKY BREAK --
*MOULIN ROUGE --
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