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IN SHORT: A cleverly written comedy sorely lacking in chemistry between its stars. [Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, and for language. 90 minutes]
Every once in a while we need to remind the newer readers how the rating system works. Briefly: a decade ago there was a film that got a thousand thumbs up from all the critics quoted in the papers. It was, in reality, a big stinking pile and we walked out of the theater thinking "we wouldn't have paid two bucks to rent this piece of . . ." And as the system refined itself, certain movies naturally fell into the "wait because you'll enjoy it better if you rent" mode. That's why you can't compare a two dollar stinker with a two dollar hidden gem. It's apples and oranges.
So what do we make of the perfect crossbreeding of apples and oranges? In this case it is a spectacular misfire of a movie called The Guru, with enough brand names in the credits that just that list could be enough to get you to buy a ticket, sight unseen. It is a film that brings Bollywood to the USA, trying to merge that uniquely Indian film form with Western sensibilities and, in doing so, shoots itself in the foot . It will be a brilliant rental if you are sufficiently lubricated and have enough life experience to get the jokes. Of course, the problem with lubrication is that, when things go bad, they go bad in a big way. A spectacular way.
If you have no idea what a Bollywood movie is, you get twice as much as you need before the opening credits of The Guru, in which a boy named Ramu Gupta suffers through that musical form with his family and sneaks into the theater next door to watch a subtitled version of Grease. Struck by the vision of Travolta and Newton-John dancing their butts off, the grown up Ramu (Jimi Mistry) finds a career teaching the Macarena to middle aged ladies, many of whom consider the younger man to be quite studly looking. But Ramu dreams of America. Streets paved with gold. A friend whose business interests have netted him a Mercedes and a penthouse apartment. And Ramu wants to be a famous actor so, leaving family and friends behind, he's off to the new world . . .
Queens, New York. Where the "penthouse" is an apartment on the second floor of a two story building and the Mercedes his friend drives is a car for hire. Failing miserably as a waiter, "Rammy" grabs a copy of backstage, and lugs his head shot down to a company in Times Square called RamRod Productions . . .
You figure it out. Rammy never does, and his job interview (for "The Boss," Michael McKean) should have had us in stitches, not just smiling and amused. When it is time to step up to the plate (if you know what I mean) he can't (if you know what I mean). Sure he's got the lovely Sharonna (Heather Graham), in stockings and garters, to inspire him – after the transvestite "Peaches" fails to do that job – but porn isn't what he wants to do. Then again, Ramu doesn't seem to be able to do much of anything so, when his friends are hired to work a catered Park Avenue party, Ramu goes to hang out. It's a birthday party for the incredibly insecure and pouty Alexandra (Marisa Tomei) who wants a guru to advise her about whatever it is gurus advise people about at swank Park Avenue parties. Lexie is pissed off that the guru that mom Chantal (Christine Baranski) has hired to be the evening's entertainment is Indian, not an Tibetan, but he's passed out drunk in the kitchen -- only the "help" know this -- and, well, someone's got to fill the robes. Quoting all the gobbledygook Sharonna once said to calm him down gets Ramu a huge word of mouth reputation on the Golden Mile. Those Park Avenue folk will pay really big bucks to work out their problems with a man of great wisdom and knowledge. One who is dubbed "The Guru of Sex."
Rammy, knowing nothing about sex, goes back to Sharonna to beg for help. In doing so he discovers that she's got another life. One with a fireman fiancee (Dash Mihok) who thinks she's a substitute teacher at a local Catholic School. Sharonna passes on her motivational secrets, thinking she's helping the new guy work his mind around the personal blocks keeping him from performing as paid. Rammy, who has nothing to do with the porn crowd anymore, passes 'em along to the Park Avenue crowd and finds his fortune.
Things, as things will, spin out of control faster than fast wild monkey sex, bringing a super agent (Rob Morrow) and teevee talk show host (Sally Jesse Raphael) into the mix. You're all smart enough to know where this is all going so we won't waste any more screen space. Sorry folks, this ain't porn, though you do get an eyeful of Heather and Marisa in their scanties.
Well, clothes (or the lack thereof) do make this man happy. Problem is, all the underwear in the world isn't going to help when the chemistry between stars is severely lacking.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Guru, he would have paid . . .
While we found ourselves laughing out loud at many more than a handful of one liners, the film put together by director Daisy von Scherler Mayer doesn't build the comedy or the frenzy or the laughs. With a very limited release your only option may indeed be to rent. It's better on the small screen because the really good zingers come out of nowhere and may be worth the extra play that you wouldn't get in a theater.
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