Say what you will about the Austin Powers franchise, but that ego trip of a trilogy had a knack for mixing big laughs with the personal, cultural, and especially comedic obsessions of Mike Myers, from Brit-style wordplay to endless, drawn-out running gags that don't go anywhere. It didn't have much to say about the James Bond franchise after the first go-round, but that engine of parody at least kept the goofball stories moving, no matter the rattles or detours along the way.
But The Love Guru, in which Myers plays the Pitka, an American-born and Indian-raised self-help guru, is all smug, desperate mirth — it feels like the third or fourth sequel to itself. Myers supposedly spent some time workshopping Pitka, but after several years and ninety minutes, the character is still thinly conceived. If anything, he resembles the Myers of So I Married an Axe Murderer (the leading role, not the hilarious Scottish father): a caricature of a comedian, making cornball jokes and then adding quasi-ironic postscripts. For ninety minutes, Myers can't stop winking — at one point, literally winking — at the audience.
You can still see traces of his merry influences; some Monty Python here, some Bugs Bunny there. But more often the movie teems with weird, indulgent distractions, like a pointless flashback scene that grafts the head of Myers onto a twelve-year-old kid, or a parade of celebrity cameos both less lustrous and less hilarious than those in the opening minutes of the last Austin Powers movie.
Actually, the whole cast of The Love Guru feels like a parade of cameos, as if everyone filmed their scenes during breaks from other movies, taking their turns with Myers rather than gelling as an ensemble. It's no surprise that Jessica Alba, playing the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs who enlists Pitka to sort out a troubled hockey player, has nothing to do but look gorgeous, though it is disheartening that the funniest leading woman Myers has hired in the past decade or so is Elizabeth Hurley. But why cast Romany Malco, so funny in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Baby Mama, as that star player and have him stand around playing straight man to Pitka's amorphous nonsense? Why give Malco a rivalry with a hotdogging Quebec player (Justin Timberlake, beyond broad, but amusing) and then barely script a scene with the two of them together?
The comedy isn't completely laughless; Pitka's inspirational book titles (Why Are You Hitting Yourself?) are funny, Stephen Colbert wrings some more humor out of the well-worn sportscaster-saying-weird-stuff bit, and once in awhile the movie busts into some spirited Bollywood homage. In fact, the exuberance Myers shows in delivering third-rate jokes would better served by second-rate musical numbers — The Love Guru might've worked as an all-out (or even half-out) Bollywood goof. Instead, it's a movie of filler: like deleted scenes, wan improv, or the scenes between the songs.