In Weekend's Dueling Comedies, Audience Is the Loser
MIKE PESCA, host:
This weekend in theaters, a comedy donnybrook, "The Love Guru" versus "Get Smart," a battle so brutal this comedy can only end in tragedy. And so combustible that it will cause an explosion, just like "Gymkata." Here to settle it is Daniel Holloway. He writes for Us Weekly, reviews movies for Metro, and squashes violence wherever he sees it. Hey, Dan.
DANIEL HOLLOWAY: Hey, Mike.
PESCA: Let us start with "The Love Guru." I will provide some background. Months ago, this movie, "The Love Guru," received possibly the worst review in history from the Spiritual Science Research Foundation. Those folks came up with a chart in which making "The Love Guru" got you 30 demerits, which would put you in the second region of Hell for 1,000 years. This was equal to murder, by the way. Watching it for entertainment and without knowing the spiritual science/significance would give you two demerits, sentencing you to the nether region for 100 years. So, those folks, some Hindus, not liking "The Love Guru," how about you, Dan?
HOLLOWAY: I'm with the Hindus.
PESCA: You're with the Hindus?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yeah! I think 1,000 is being charitable.
PESCA: Oh, wow.
PESCA: Man, I think Mike Myers is a comic genius. How did he misstep so badly?
HOLLOWAY: You know, Mike Myers is, or was, at one point, a comic genius. However, if you think about the amount of new material that Myers has put out, it's fairly limited. He's kind of returns to the well over and over again. And his last good, original idea that he came up with was the original "Austin Powers" film, which was probably about 10 years ago.
HOLLOWAY: At this point. This is his first crack at something...
PESCA: He's funny as "Shrek."
HOLLOWAY: He is funny as "Shrek."
PESCA: He does a funny Scottish ogre.
HOLLOWAY: But again, we're three deep into the "Shrek" movies, also. I mean, we're about seven or eight years removed from those.
HOLLOWAY: Myers is - you know, he famously had a spiritual awakening long time back with Deepak Chopra, and people have been saying this movie is inspired by that. I wish he had stayed spiritually asleep so that...
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: Or at least funny.
HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Or at least funny, you know. Be spiritually awakened, but also be funny. And what this movie does really is make you very hyperaware of the fact that a lot of Myers' comedy is based on mugging for the camera. He actually mugs more than any other comic actor I can think of, even Jim Carrey. I mean, think about Wayne, Austin Powers, all these characters, they spend a lot of time looking into the camera...
PESCA: Well, Wayne's on TV so he knows about it. But even when he's not, he'll turn and give it an arched eyebrow, yeah.
PESCA: So let's get a clip. Here's "The Love Guru" himself, in a flashback, studying under Ben Kingsley, who is attempting to undo any good karma he may have achieved by playing Gandhi.
(Soundbite of movie "The Love Guru")
Sir BEN KINGSLEY: (As Guru Tugginmypudha) Deepak, why do you want to join the Tugginmypudha ashram?
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Deepak) To seek my true self.
Mr. MIKE MYERS: (As Pitka) Kiss ass.
Sir KINGSLEY: (As Guru Tugginmypudha) Maurice, why do you want to join?
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Maurice) I want to become a guru so girls will like me. Then I will like myself.
Sir KINGSLEY: (As Guru Tugginmypudha) Deepak, you will enjoy love in all forms. Maurice, you must wear this chastity belt.
(Soundbite of elephant trumpeting)
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Maurice) Chastity belt? That sucks!
(Soundbite of gong)
HOLLOWAY: You're going to Hell, Pesca. I saw you laughing during that clip.
PESCA: Well, I was laughing because we were having this huge discussion about the use of the elephant noise as comic punctuation.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: Pashman says, no, the donkey is the funniest sound. Chillag says, I'm sticking with the elephant noise. But I guess it didn't help this movie that much.
HOLLOWAY: I laughed between - I didn't keep exact count, but I know it was at the least five, at the most ten times, throughout the movie. That was it.
PESCA: Was it...
HOLLOWAY: And I laugh at everything, so...
PESCA: Was it, indeed, religiously offensive?
HOLLOWAY: It was offensive in its badness.
PESCA: I got you.
HOLLOWAY: There's a little bit of a racial stereotype that Myers is playing off of. But...
PESCA: Is it worse than Apu, who, you know, "The Simpsons" deals with him and...
HOLLOWAY: But the difference is Apu is funny.
PESCA: Apu is funny.
HOLLOWAY: You know?
PESCA: And they also really show honest elements of Indian culture, in a sense.
HOLLOWAY: Yeah. And you get to know, you know, Apu, like all of "The Simpsons" characters, begins as a caricature and ends up becoming a real character.
HOLLOWAY: You know, this is just - I don't know what this is, but it's not funny. And there's a lot of people who are going to go to hell for this movie.
PESCA: What about Verne Troyer, the original Mini-Me? They keep making fun of him in this one?
HOLLOWAY: Mini-Me is back as a hockey coach. And he gets thrown across the ice. He gets punched in the nuts. He gets - you know, he's a midget and he gets abused for it. And oh, oh God, that's so funny. The midget's being picked on. The little guy.
PESCA: Little person Verne Troyer.
PESCA: OK. Let's go on to a movie that might be funnier just because that last one wasn't. "Get Smart." Did you get "Get Smart"?
HOLLOWAY: It's like, you know, get - what's the good, you know, headline-y pun I can make? Get mediocre, get kind of stupid.
PESCA: I wish they would get smart?
HOLLOWAY: I probably walked away with a more favorable impression of "Get Smart" than I would have in any other week.
HOLLOWAY: Because after seeing "The Love Guru," I could watch commercials and be more entertained. So it's not - it's a competent movie that's not very ambitious. It's basically a riff off of the "Mission Impossible" films.
PESCA: Steve Carell versus Don Adams. How did they stack up?
HOLLOWAY: I'll be honest. I'm not 138 years old, so I don't remember the original "Get Smart" television show. I saw a couple of episodes as a kid, but I do have to put that out there. I don't remember Don Adams.
PESCA: What about Tennessee Tuxedo? It's basically the same character. Don Adams played him.
HOLLOWAY: From the Hanna-Barbera cartoons?
PESCA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
HOLLOWAY: It's - Carell is playing Carell, you know? I think the character - from what I've seen of the character, the character suits him very well. You know, he plays an intelligent but not quite bumbling guy, but sort of - if there's a difference between bumbling and stumbling. He's mildly bumbling.
PESCA: A couple of letters separating him. Let's hear how Maxwell Smart bumbles undercover.
(Soundbite of movie "Get Smart")
Mr. TERENCE STAMP: (As Siegfried) Who are you?
Mr. STEVE CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) My name is Nudnick Spilkas. Who are you?
Mr. STAMP: (As Siegfried) I am Siegfried.
Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) I understand that you're the man to see if someone is interested in acquiring items of a nuclear nature.
Mr. STAMP: (As Siegfried) How do I know you're not controlled?
Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) If I were controlled, you'd already be dead.
Mr. STAMP: (As Siegfried) If you were controlled, you'd already be dead.
Mr. CARELL: (As Maxwell Smart) Well, neither of us is dead, so I'm obviously not from control.
Mr. STAMP: (As Siegfried) That actually makes sense.
PESCA: So let me ask you this.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: How can you give it a mediocre review if you're howling in here as you listen to that clip?
HOLLOWAY: Because I just had a "You're going to Hell" spoken into my headphones!
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: All right. How's Anne Hathaway?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, Anne Hathaway's legs are a prominent feature of this film.
PESCA: That's good.
HOLLOWAY: In a way, it's a movie about Anne Hathaway's legs. Anne Hathaway is about how she is in every movie. She's there, and she's a little cold, and well lit.
PESCA: She's there, she's square, get used to it.
HOLLOWAY: Yeah, yeah.
PESCA: All right. Here's my Steve Carell insight. I think the guy is hysterical, just as great a "Daily Show" correspondent as can be. I don't know anyone who I regard - I have such high esteem for comedically who's just been in a series of comedic movies that I have just no interest in seeing. Because even Steve Martin punctuates the movies that you don't care about, the kiddie movies, with some good ones, but Steve Carrel is just consistently in movies that I don't care about. You know, is he torpedoing his career going after the big blockbuster "Evan Almighty," "Get Smart," et cetera?
HOLLOWAY: Here's my theory about this. This is something me and my wife worked out one day talking about the same thing, is that Carell gets all of the comedy street cred in the world that he needs from "The Office." And after having done "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Little Miss Sunshine," he doesn't need any more film street cred. He just goes in twice and year and cashes a paycheck, does a big bloated film and goes back to shooting more "Office" episodes. And you know, it's greedy, but it's not, you know, the motivations aren't admirable, but you know, you can't fault him because he still is doing good work elsewhere. It's just not in motion pictures.
PESCA: You saw a piece of marketing this week called "Kit Kittredge," the first theatrically released "American Girl" movie. From an ad in the New York Times, this is a limited release today. In five theaters, you could see the movie about - what is it? Like six days before everyone else could see it on Wednesday? And if you go, it's 20 dollars for a ticket, but you get a special gift.
HOLLOWAY: What could that gift be?
PESCA: I don't know!
HOLLOWAY: Do you think it's a doll?
PESCA: Ah, I just heard it's a T-shirt.
HOLLOWAY: T-shirt? Would they really? Just a T-shirt?
PESCA: Just a T-shirt, not even a doll.
HOLLOWAY: Just go to the store and get one.
PESCA: Is it a T-shirt for Kit? No. We don't even know. Oh, it is for Kit.
PATRICIA MCKINNEY: Yeah, it's a T-shirt for - a children-sized T-shirt. Supply is limited. You have to redeem your ticket stub to get a T-shirt.
PESCA: Yeah, supply is limited to how many people can fit in those five theaters.
MCKINNEY: I looked this stuff up for you, Mike.
PESCA: Thanks. So what did you think of the movie?
HOLLOWAY: The movie is, you know, it's - I guess it's good for little kids. There's not - thankfully, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know whether to expect an actual doll being, you know, sort of sold in the film. There's not. It's set in the Great Depression. Kit Kittredge is played by Abigail Breslin and she's a - she wants to be a reporter. She's nine years old, or whatever. She's trying to write newspaper stories for the Cincinnati Register.
PESCA: Yeah, that's cool, that's the backstory of the real doll. I know all about the "American Girl" dolls, but go ahead.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: She's from Cincinnati!
HOLLOWAY: Let's get into - no wait, why do you know about the...
PESCA: I once did a story on the "American Girl" phenomenon, and it's crazy! And they have a quasi-Broadway show. And as I told you, as we were chatting off the air, the escaped slave doll sings the best song in the Broadway show.
HOLLOWAY: As she should.
HOLLOWAY: Yeah, anyway, so it's set during the Depression. And she has adventures with hobos, lots of hobos.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HOLLOWAY: And apparently the Great Depression was all about hanging out with magicians and dance instructors and hobos in your backyard.
PESCA: And let me also point out that Alan Arkin was in "Get Smart," Steve Carell was in "Get Smart," and Abigail was in this movie. That's three costars of "Little Miss Sunshine." Thank you, Dan Holloway. And that is it for this hour of the BPP. We are always online at npr.org. I'm Mike Pesca.