Mike Myers became famous creating some of the most original comedy of the past 20 years, and has a track record of producing high farce that tickles the funny bones of mass markets that other comics can't reach. But when his most recent film came out, the world forgot to laugh.
On paper, The Love Guru was supposed to be a light-hearted romp through the colourful world of Eastern mysticism. It co-starred some of the most bankable names in showbusiness, including Justin Timberlake, Jessica Alba, Ben Kingsley and Jessica Simpson, and marked the Austin Powers star's first front-of-camera appearance for more than six years.
The suits at Paramount Pictures gave Myers more than $60m to make the title. Another $40m-odd was spent marketing it. They expected a summer blockbuster: the previous two films Myers had written and starred in (Goldmember and The Spy Who Shagged Me) had each made more than $200m. Then, everything went wrong. In Hollywood, buzz is everything. And as The Love Guru's June launch approached, that buzz was relentlessly bad. Test screenings bombed; newspapers and magazines seemed disinterested.
When the first reviews rolled in, things hit rock bottom. The Love Guru wasn't just panned; it was ridiculed, variously deemed "dreadful", "unwatchable", "tedious" and a "self-indulgent mess". A O Scott of The New York Times ventured that a "whole new vocabulary" was required to sum up the film's awfulness.
Cinema-goers took note. On its opening weekend, The Love Guru debuted at fourth in the charts, taking only $14m. By the time it was pulled from America's screens a few weeks later, it had mustered just over $30m, perhaps a fifth of its expected takings. The nightmare figure represented financial disaster for the good people of Paramount.
This week, The Love Guru continues its somewhat tortured progression around the world's cinemas. It was released last week in the UK and gained another selection of dreadful reviews. Unless British audiences suddenly take collective leave of their senses, it will make very little money at the box office. This week's UK charts find it only just creeping into the top 10 at No 8.
When the dust settles, an intriguing question will remain: where does this leave Mike Myers? For despite being one of the most inventive, quirky, and gifted comedians of his generation, the Anglo-Canadian star has failed to score a proper hit since The Spy Who Shagged Me nine years ago (2002's Goldmember was critically panned, regardless of its commercial success). The Midas touch that made him the most sought-after comic in Hollywood has vanished.
How can a man who burst on to the scene in Wayne's World, and was schooled in Saturday Night Live, have left the rails so drastically? When did the creator of some of the most memorable characters and catchphrases in modern film manage to, as Austin Powers might say, part company with his "mojo"? What, more to the point, went wrong with The Love Guru?
Here, in a bid to explain how Mike Myers got stuck in a mire (and chart his possible course out of it) are some explanations as to why it all went wrong.
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1. The Mike Myers work ethic
Myers waited six years to appear in another film after the Austin Powers trilogy (provided you ignore his voiceover work in the Shrek animations and The Cat in the Hat). In the fickle world of Hollywood, that's simply far too long.
Today, the majority of Myers fans are over the age of 25. Many have grown up, moved on, and now represent a demographic that is tricky to tempt to cinemas in great numbers to see any film, let alone a poorly reviewed comedy. In short, The Love Guru's creator and central figure has lost touch with the zeitgeist.
2. 'The Love Guru' was poorly marketed
Believe it or not, The Love Guru was actually a hilarious movie... provided you have the sense of humour of a 10-year-old. Unfortunately, very few 10-year-olds ever got to see it.
American public morality makes it hard to get away with a kids' movie that touches on the subject of sex. But if the people at Paramount had stopped trying to sell The Love Guru as a randy Peter Sellers movie, and instead focused on the young teen market, they could have found a more willing audience.
3. Casting problems
Justin Timberlake may be a decent musician. But he's a lousy actor, and appeared snappy and tricky in publicity interviews leading up to the film's launch this summer.
Ben Kingsley is over-exposed, and the Jessicas Alba and Simpson are better known as rent-a-celebrities than actors. Myers, meanwhile, has never enjoyed a reputation as an easy person to work with. Type his name, together with "diva", into Google and you'll see why.
Although it isn't known whether Myers insisted on being given "final cut" on The Love Guru, it's unlikely that either his producers or the studio leaned hard enough on him either to keep the 87-minute film's budget down, or rework some of the scenes and jokes that caused its appalling reviews.
4. The film offended minorities
Myers has a track record of upsetting noisy interest groups, and in previous films has variously lampooned Scots, fat people, midgets, and the entire homosexual community.
In The Love Guru, he sends up Eastern mysticism, which sparked heated complaints from the Hindu community, in both America and overseas. "What he could have done was have been a little less gross about some of the jokes," Deepak Chopra told MTV News. "And some of the spiritual themes, they could have shown more of the lighter side. He was almost too serious in his deprecation. He needed more humour."
5. Mike Myers wasn't funny in the first place
Re-watch Wayne's World. Then re-watch the Austin Powers trilogy. Provided you are sober, ask yourself a big question: are they really all that hilarious?
Sure, the films were original. Sure, catchprases such as "Party time!" and "Groovy, baby!" might have made you laugh as a half-stoned teenager. And those ludicrous fake teeth probably looked good at the time. But 10 years down the line, it's difficult to argue that the Myers sense of humour has aged particularly well.
6. It fell victim to wider trends
This summer, there's a glut of comedies on the market. Some are pretty decent, such as Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder, and Will Ferrell's Step Brothers. Others less so, such as Get Smart. While many have performed solidly, none has provided a box-office knockout.
"I would put Mike Myers in that category of Saturday Night Live 'alums' who have come from TV to movies," says film historian Steve Vineberg. "Some have had sustained careers, others haven't. His real gift is as a mimic, and with that brand of humour, there's always only a certain number of times you can see that shtick without growing bored."
7. It was a rare aberration
As you might expect from a man whose brand of comedy is defined by its quirkiness, Myers is capable of the odd mistake, and his career before The Love Guru wasn't as untarnished as you might think: in 1993, he released the stinker So I Married an Axe Murderer.
He bounced back from that, and he may well bounce back from this. Indeed, only last week, the Hollywood rumour mill suggested that he was currently hard at work on a fourth instalment of the Austin Powers series, which will be part-homage to his late father.
The analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Media by Numbers recently told the influential film magazine Radar that it's too early to write Myers off. "Certainly, he's a visionary comedian, and I wouldn't count him out. But in the future, a more accessible or mainstream character might play better to a mass audience." Of course, only time (and Austin Powers 4) will tell.
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