Black comedy

Taboo subjects, gallows humor and dark comedy.

The Love Guru

There are two directions a film called The Love Guru can go: either a send-up of easy answer self-help inspirational culture of the kind that’s infested Instagram, or a satire of cults and their acolytes (interestingly, the line between these is often blurred).

When you don’t delve deeply enough into either, you’re stuck in a comedy middle ground, a laugh-less purgatory.

The indelible pop culture juggernaut that is Austin Powers could make sport of his own sexual inadequacy, toy with action film convention, and of course, mine the wealth of material that is the James Bond franchise. However, Guru Pitka, the title character in The Love Guru, is as under-developed as some of the Saturday Night Live-character-based full-length features.  In fact, even though its genesis is elsewhere, the bearded guru character feels like it was workshopped in front of Lorne Michaels, and kiboshed before making it to air.

The Love Guru is pretty grim stuff indeed, and a shame too as it’s unabashedly Canadian, peppered with arcane references to a storied (well, infamous and perpetually terrible) Toronto hockey team (and its owner) and featuring our national game in all its glory. And there’s a wealth of supporting talent in the form of Stephen Colbert, Justin Timberlake, and others.

The Guru is brought in to help one of the Leafs’ star players reconcile with his wife, who’s left him for a French-Canadian goalie. He figures this will catapult him to the top of the self-help heap, currently occupied by Deepak Chopra.

This threadbare plotting paves the way for loads of Myers’ cheeky innuendo and awful punning, the kind that a character as lovably lecherous as Austin Powers could get away with — but not so here. Especially when he’s laughing at his own tepid jokes.

Vern Troyer (as Coach Punch Cherkov…yep, that’s the kind of humor we’re dealing with) is the subject of a terrific gag involving his scaled-to-size office, however that’s possibly The Love Guru’s sole guffaw.

And with an 87-minute run-time, it still feels heavily padded (there are three, count ’em three, musical numbers, none of which is inspired).

Painful stuff.

*1/2 (out of 5)

[Be sure to check out our podcast of The Love Guru on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]!

Meatballs

Summer camps in these parts function as a dumping ground — parents unload their kids, and breathe a sigh of relief for a few months sans brats. Meatballs is a fairly accurate representation of the summer camp experience — the frequently awkward gender dynamics, raging hormones, idiotically competitive mandatory “fun,” and crappy food.

Summer camp in Southern Ontario was a mixed bag for the authors of this site. It was frequently a rewarding, eye-opening experience featuring all sorts of novel activities, from kayaking to sack races… However, there was a dark side too, especially if friends weren’t immediately made.

And the summer camp / prison similarities weren’t lost on us: In both, people are sent there against their will; there are fractured group dynamics; cliques are formed for self-preservation; lunch is a large, communal experience (with frequently bad food); authority figures are looked at askance; and there are strictly enforced curfews…

In the 1979 Ivan Reitman production that is Meatballs, we catch a small glimpse of the movie star Chicagoan Bill Murray would become. Here he’s Tripper, an aging wiseacre camp counselor who treats his job with as little earnestness as he can possibly muster, who openly mocks the kitchen mystery meat during his morning camp announcements.

He befriends loser/social outcast, Rudy (Chris Makepeace), a slight, effeminate wallflower who’s picked on by his Lord of the Flies fellow campers. Together, they play small-stakes card games (literally, for “peanuts”) and bond over long-distance running. All the while, Murray’s Tripper amuses his young pal with age-inappropriate jokes that’d be kiboshed in today’s era of hyper-sensitivity.

And like period kid movies, Meatballs features the usual assemblage of near-80s archetypes: jocks, hot girls, nerds, fatties, loners, etc.

Dueling camps (and their counselors/counselors-in-training) go at it for all the glory, Camp North Star (the relatable middle-class good-guys/gals) VS. Camp Mohawk (the stuck-up, attractive, older, richy-riches).

Ultimately, Rudy comes out of his shell to win it for our heroes.

Meatballs recedes when Murray’s not in the frame, but when he is…things come alive.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our podcast about Meatballs on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]