Ever since his big screen breakthrough with the comedy classic Wayne’s World back in 1992, Mike Myers has been Hollywood gold. To date, pretty much every film in which he’s starred has done well both critically and commercially, with even the disappointments – like 1993’s So I Married an Axe Murderer and last year’s Shrek the Third – only being moaned about thanks to the high standards of Myers’ previous outings. Indeed, Myers must rank up there as one of the most successful of all Saturday Night Live alumni – an impressive list that includes the varied likes of Bill Murray, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Dan Ackroyd and even Robert Downey Jr.
But even without comparisons to his fellow ex-Live stars, the fact that Myers hasn’t had a genuine flop in a decade (1998’s straight to video Pete’s Meteor) is no mean feat. Chuck onto that the immense success of the three franchises he has helped create – the Wayne’s World films grossing $170 million, the Austin Powers series making $472 million, and the Shrek films grossing £2.2 billion to date (none of these including merchandise) – and Myers is as close to a gold-plated certainty as any studio could wish for.
Still, you would have thought that alarm bells might have started ringing when Myers decided that his new character would be called Guru Pitka, and be a spoof on Indian mystics. Not only does the concept immediately conjure up all sorts of possibilities for racism (whether intentional or not), with echoes of Peter Sellers’ horrifically racist 1968 effort The Party (with the comic master blacked up as an incompetent Indian film extra), but it also sounds strangely reminiscent of 2002’s romantic comedy flop The Guru. There an aspiring Indian actor comes to America hoping to become a star and ends up a self-help guru, this time an aspiring Indian guru comes to America and ends up a star (of sorts). Being as he is an acknowledged fan of Sellers, and having starred alongside The Guru’s leading lady, Heather Graham, in the first Austin Powers movie, the striking similarities in Myers’ latest offering can surely be no coincidence – though thankfully he has opted to play an American raised in India rather than an actual Indian for his take.
But still, the idea of doing a spoof of James Bond and assorted other Sixties spies was hardly original, but Austin Powers worked out pretty well – with Myers’ track record, you can forgive the studio for giving him the benefit of the doubt. Only the similarities to The Party and The Guru aren’t the only things that make this seem a bit familiar – there’s also the interplay between Myers and Austin Powers’ “Mini-Me”, Verne Troyer and there’s jokes and intonations we’ve seen countless times in subtly different forms from Myers before. The end result has been a critical mauling in the states – though still with relatively healthy box office returns, as fans of Myers flock to see more of the same.
Sadly, however, the only cause for celebration here is confirmation that Justin Timberlake is rapidly turning into a very fine actor indeed, putting in a comic performance far superior to that of the film’s nominal star – one worth the price of admission by itself.