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Guru, The

Universal // R // June 3, 2003
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted June 3, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Have you ever heard the saying, "The grass is always greener..."? It's a pretty common theme in movies all over the world. The protagonist is unsatisfied with his life or circumstances and thinks he can improve them by some means or another. Typically, this involves moving from the safety of friends and family in order to find their niche in life. For a great many people of the world, such a better life exists in America-home of the free, land of the brave, where the streets are paved with gold. The movie, The Guru, centers on one such story.

In the movie, a young dance instructor from India, Ramu (Jimi Mistry), decides that he can, and will, make it big as a movie star like his childhood hero John Travolta (the movie opens with a younger version of Ramu choosing to leave a popular local movie for the American smash, Grease). His move to the wealthy but far away country, bolstered by a friend's letter describing how successful he has been in the USA, begins a journey that involves culture clash, a good dose of humor, and a set of circumstances detailing one young man's weird experience on his trip to live "the good life".

Upon arriving at his friend's loft, he finds that the American dream is just that, a dream. The opportunities for someone with little to no experience are far more limited and he ends up working as a waiter to unappreciative customers (i.e.: "ugly Americans") and ends up looking for new work. Undaunted by his limited prospects, he answers an ad for a movie cast call, telling everyone how close he is to "making it big in the movies". In a cruel twist of fate, he discovers it's for a porno movie (perfect casting of Michael McKean as the director/producer). The lead female, Sharonna (Heather Graham-another insider joke as she played a porn actress in Boogie Nights), tries to help him achieve a state of arousal by spouting off some mumbo jumbo psycho-babble which he later uses to impress some rich people. From there, his life loses all control and the movie finds it's legs.

Well, the movie is a romantic comedy as much as a journey to find one's place in the Universe and it was pretty entertaining. The humor ranged from light jabs at the rich's willingness to grasp onto any exotic philosophy to the obligatory boyfriend coming home early when Ramu and Sharonna are in a compromising position. Humor being a very tricky thing to get right in a movie, I think Director Daisy Mayer and Screenwriter Tracey Jackson (both on the first commentary track) did an exceptional job at presenting the various characters in a positive, non-stereotypical, light. Other directors would've been content in providing burdensome, cookie cutter, characters-I see such happenstances all the time in mainstream movies.

In a related note, the performances here, from wide-eyed Ramu, to the gullible Lexi (wonderfully played by Marisa Tomei), to the confused Sharonna and all the supporting cast, were a lot of fun to watch. The comic timing of the leads was good, even when the actual material wasn't great. The material was fun, if not laugh out loud funny, more often than not with the cast's ability to cover soft spots a big plus.

It seems as though the comedy and performances were good but a romantic comedy needs more than that to work. Look at the failed Two Weeks Notice to see what happens when one crucial element is missing from such a movie. So, with the comedy okay, what about the drama and tension to make it work? This is where the movie drops the ball a bit and relies on convention too heavily. You see what'll happen a mile away and the situations borrowed too much from generic stock situations found all over the movie world.

So while the movie was a fun treat to watch, it didn't reach it's full potential. Very likeable characters in a combination of a Hollywood romantic comedy, a "Bollywood" (India movie) musical, and excellent performances made this one much better than the professional critics seemed to realize. Granted, it was almost as quirky as an independent movie in some ways (at times the conventions were turned on their heads) and not as likely to appeal to a mainstream audience, but a good romp to check out for the open-minded.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio Anamorphic Widescreen color. For the most part, it looked very clear although a few of the scenes looked slightly soft on their focus. The colors looked very rich and the blacks look very dark, if not "true" black.

Sound: The audio was presented in a choice of English 5.1 (DTS or Dolby Digital-I preferred the DTS), French, or Spanish 5.1. It had captioning for the hearing impaired as well as subtitles in French or Spanish if you wanted them. In all, the audio was very clear, especially the vocals, but the musical numbers were where the production shined.

Extras: My favorite extra on the dvd was the audio commentary by the Director, Daisy Mayer, and Screenwriter, Tracey Jackson. The two of them discussed a lot of material, from the performers, to the locations, to the difficulties of making the movie with such ease that you felt almost like a fly on the wall. A lot of what was said helped explain the parts of the movie that weren't as accessible as the majority of it and it really filled in the blanks. The separate commentary by lead Jimi Mistry seemed almost an afterthought by comparison and I think I'd have preferred him to join the ladies on their track since he didn't really have much to add other than a few personal anecdotes from time to time. Maybe if he had been with Heather Graham or Marisa Tomei, he'd have come alive more but he just seemed a bit at odds with the process. The extras also included some deleted scenes, a photogallery, the teaser trailer, and regular trailer to the feature.

Final Thoughts: I probably liked this one more than most people would given it's optimistic message (i.e.: the grass really is greener...), light humor, and performances. With a few minor changes, it would've been better but this was an easy one to Recommend given it's extras, production values, and cast.

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