Porn and philosophy don't mix

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Is anything worse than the hackneyed shenanigans of movies like "Kangaroo Jack" and "A Guy Thing," stuck in worn-out formulas from start to finish?

Not really, but there's a different brand of annoyance in "The Guru," the kind of comedy that aims at "edginess" and "sassiness" without managing to be edgy or sassy for a second.

We first meet the hero as a child in India, yawning through a typical Indian musical - long spectacle, short on plot - before sneaking to "Grease" in another theater, where John Travolta's antics tickle him pink. He emigrates to New York right after the opening credits, convinced his dancing skills will make him a high-stepping star.

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Yeah, right. Fame eludes him, and in a scene that's obligatory for stories like this, he's reduced to waiting on tables in a snobbish restaurant. Eventually, he auditions for acting work with a super-low budget movie company. He doesn't realize that it's a pornography outfit, and the boss doesn't realize he doesn't realize this.

If you can swallow that sort of far-fetched twist, you may enjoy "The Guru" more than I did. But things get even farther- fetched. His costar is a woman with an interest in philosophy and religion, dabbling in porn to earn a nest egg for her coming marriage. When he's called upon to impersonate a guru at a society party - the real guru is too drunk to officiate - he quotes ideas he's picked up from her.

His preaching catches on and he becomes a New-Age celebrity. But can he sustain his masquerade? Will his followers dump him if they learn he's just an actor? And what about his philosophical friend, who'd obviously be better off if she married him instead of the guy she's engaged to?

Suspense builds. Or rather, suspense would build if any of this were believable. But director Daisy von Scherler Mayer shows little interest in getting us emotionally involved with the characters. Instead, the movie invites us to sneer at society snobs, giggle at tepid sex jokes, sniffle at sentimental interludes, and congratulate ourselves for being cosmopolitan enough to watch the unconventional kisses (biracial, gay) that climax the picture.

What are talented actresses like Marisa Tomei and Heather Graham doing in a wafer-thin fizzle like this? Now there's a question a genuine guru would have trouble figuring out.

• Rated R; nudity and sexual humor.

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