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"THE GURU"
(2003) (Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: An Indian immigrant arrives in America hoping to live the American dream as an actor, but finds himself mistaken for a revered sex guru.
PLOT:
Ever since he was a kid, dance instructor Ramu (JIMI MISTRY) has been enamored with America and Hollywood movies. Thus, he decides to leave his native India and head to New York to stay with his cousin, Vijay (EMIL MARWA), who's reportedly achieved the American dream. When Ramu arrives in the Big Apple, however, he discovers that Vijay has faired no better than most other immigrants, including roommates Sanjiv (AJAY NAIDU) and Amit (RAAHUL SINGH), and takes a waiter job with him.

When that doesn't work out, he auditions for a movie for filmmaker Dwain (MICHAEL McKEAN), unaware that he makes porno films. Moments after learning that from Peaches (DWIGHT EWELL), the transvestite make-up artist, Ramu finds himself on the set with veteran porn actress Sharonna (HEATHER GRAHAM) who's yet to let her fireman fiancÚ, Rusty (DASH MIHOK), know about her line of work.

The fact that Ramu can't perform on cue doesn't bode well for his future in that industry, but he ends up using Sharonna's personal advice about sex when he's called upon to stand in for a drunken swami at the birthday party for socialite Lexi (MARISA TOMEI). Her snobby mother, Chantal (CHRISTINE BARANSKI), isn't so sure about him, but he becomes the hit of the party and convinces Lexi that he's a sex guru.

Accordingly, Ramu offers to buy Sharonna's expensive wedding cake in exchange for more sex lessons from her, although she's unaware of what he's really doing with her material. As he becomes a bigger celebrity, he must decide whether to continue with his ruse and subsequent fame, or risk everything by letting Sharonna know the truth as well as how he really feels about her.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Regardless of whether they're classics or mediocre efforts, many films have signature moments for which they're long remembered. For instance, the most memorable scene in "Jaws" is one of its quieter ones where Robert Shaw's character recounts the sinking of the U.S.S Indianapolis. In "When Harry Met Sally," one of the movie's loudest scenes - Meg Ryan's faked orgasm - is the one that's gone down in film history.

In "Grease," it was the moment where Olivia Newton-John shows up with frizzy hair and tight leather pants and then belts out "You're the One That I Want" with John Travolta. While nothing spectacular from a filmmaking standpoint, it was nevertheless a highly entertaining, toe-tapping moment that's just as effective today as it was back in 1978.

The funny thing is, that same song and its accompanying scene also make up the best moment in "The Guru," a fish out of water, culture clash comedy. I'm not referring, however, to the opening scene where we actually see that footage as a young Indian boy sneaks into a theater showing "Grease." Instead, it's when that character - now a newly arrived, adult immigrant in America - imagines the American object of his affection appearing in one of his country's lavish Bollywood musicals.

He's then in it as well and suddenly the song switches to "You're The One That I Want." As the characters lip synch and dance to it while dressed - like everyone around them - in traditional Bollywood musical garb, you're suddenly caught up in the highly infectious moment.

It's just a short-lived daydream, however, that only briefly transports us out of what's otherwise a messily constructed and sporadically funny or enjoyable affair. As directed by Daisy Von Scherler Mayer ("Madeline," "Woo") - who works from a script by Tracey Jackson (making her debut) - the effort is a hit or miss experience, that unfortunately has more of the latter characteristics than the former.

Part musical, part fish out of water comedy and part satire on, among other things, the porn industry, the film is all over the board. It also never manages to stay anywhere or focus long enough on any subject to be as entertaining or satisfying as it might have been.

While the main character - charmingly played, for the most part, by British actor Jimi Mistry ("The Mystic Masseur," "East is East") - grew up watching and idolizing "Grease," he obviously should have been studying "West Side Story" and its song, "America," about the plight of immigrants in the U.S.

Instead, Ramu arrives near the "Isle of Manhattan" and quickly learns that life is not like it's portrayed in the movies. Since much of the film plays as a goofy comedy, it's too bad the filmmakers weren't more creative in setting up the character's false expectations - based on watching American movies - and either dashing them or letting him succeed because of them.

Instead, they've opted to target the porn industry, which is fine since it's obviously ripe for the picking in an adult comedy. Alas, little of that material is as creative or scathingly funny as one would expect. The same holds true for poking fun at the motivation industry that's grown to immense proportions in the U.S. and is represented here by the film's titular subject.

Although Ramu's unintended ascension to the top of the sex guru field is rapid, it's not particularly inspired or funny from a storytelling standpoint (he simply repeats a porn actress' advice about how to work in the industry). The same holds true for the portrayal of its consumers - rich socialites - as played by the likes of Marisa Tomei ("Someone Like You," "In the Bedroom") and especially Christine Baranski ("Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Bowfinger").

To no one's surprise, the protagonist and thus the film eventually try to turn romantic and simultaneously develop a conscience in the third act with him wanting to come clear with his adult film star actress played by Heather Graham ("Sidewalks of New York," "Say It Isn't So"). Playing her second porn character - after Rollergirl in "Boogie Nights" - Graham might look the part, but her weak acting and the poorly written part prevent us from caring about whether her and Mistry's characters ultimately get together (as compared to what occurred in "Grease").

Although the film is loaded with potential and many satirical targets, the execution of the material leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from the aforementioned musical number and a few other moments, "The Guru" simply isn't as fun, charming or entertaining as it should be. Accordingly, the film rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 14, 2003 / Posted February 14, 2003


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