How very long ago, it seems, that Richard Gere was ridiculed as a spiritual simp for his ardent public devotion to the Dalai Lama. These days, everyone in Hollywood is a Buddhist (it makes pondering the weekend grosses so much more of a ”quest”), and a movie like ”The Cup” invites the audience to follow suit. Unlike, say, Martin Scorsese’s ”Kundun,” this is one journey to salvation in which the monks of Tibet appear about as forbidding as teddy bears.
A pair of Tibetan youths leave their Chinese-occupied homeland and arrive in Bhutan, at a monastery-in-exile near the foothills of the Himalayas. Ensconced in this ascetic retreat, they immerse themselves in the ritualistic Buddhist pastimes (meditation, menial farming). Before long, they have added a new one. That’s right: World Cup soccer. And you thought that holy men didn’t know how to party.
”The Cup” was directed by Khyentse Norbu, a preeminent lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but I’m afraid that it’s one of those bogus, ”we’re-all-the-same-under-our-sarongs” movies that invites the viewer to have his piety and eat it, too. Orgyen (Jamyang Lodro), the young, shaven-headed hero, arranges to have a satellite dish set up in the compound, but since he never displays much interest in anything BUT soccer, there’s no cross-cultural frisson to his sports obsession.
He’s the Entertainment Kid, bringing the spectacle of Western competitiveness to a monastery that looks like it might fall into a collective coma otherwise. ”The Cup” is little more than a plodding celebration of global television trumping everything in its midst. That, in fact, is just what people used to believe was silly about Richard Gere — that he paraded his ”selfless” Buddhist message in the middle of a glam-fest like the Oscars. This is a movie that would like a big thumbs up for enlightenment.