Bowfinger Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

Bowfinger Logo

Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy

"Bowfinger" is the latest scathing deconstruction of the movie-making process, following in the footsteps of satires such as Mel Brooks' "The Producers", Robert Altman's "The Player", and "Burn, Hollywood, Burn: An Alan Smithee Film". Rambunctiously performed by the comic duo of Eddie Murphy ("Life") and scripter Steve Martin ("The Spanish Prisoner"), "Bowfinger" is a delightful tour-de-farce that details the vision, commitment, and effort that goes into the production of a bad movie.

Schlockmeister movie director Bobby Bowfinger (Martin) is at the end of his rope as the story opens, with his phone about to disconnected by AT&T and his employees are about to walk out due to lack of work. However, Bowfinger is filled with hope after reading "Chubby Rain", a script for a sci-fi epic written by his accountant and part-time receptionist Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle). "Chubby Rain" will help pull Bowfinger International Pictures out of the doldrums... if the never-say-die director can get top Hollywood action star Kit Ramsey (Murphy) to play the lead role.

Unfortunately, Bowfinger ends up being thrown out onto the street when he attempts to pitch "Chubby Rain" to the arrogant marquee hero. Undeterred, Bowfinger decides to shoot the picture without Ramsey's knowledge, having his actors surreptitiously go up to the marquee star to say their lines, all while being filmed by a hidden camera. With only a couple thousand dollars to spend, Bowfinger gathers the best cast and crew that he can afford. Dave (Jaime Kennedy of "Enemy of the State") is his production manager, who not only knows where they can 'borrow' equipment from, but also where they can find illegal Mexican immigrants to round out the production crew. Carol (Christine Baranski of "Bulworth" and "Cruel Intentions") is Bowfinger's over-the-top vamptress who claims to have had classical training in the theater, but doesn't show it. Daisy (Heather Graham of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me") is a seemingly naive Ohio girl fresh off the bus, hoping to get her big break as an actress. Finally, there's Jiff (Murphy), a sheepish and dim-witted dead-ringer for Kit Ramsey who comes in handy when Ramsey isn't readily available.

Heather Graham

However, what Bowfinger doesn't know is that Ramsey is haunted by paranoid delusions in which he sees conspiracies at play all around him, from white actors getting all the best catchphrases to aliens secretly reading his brainwaves. And though he has been in counseling with the head of a Scientology-like cult called Mind Head, Bowfinger's clandestine movie-making quickly throws Ramsey over the edge, filling his already troubled mind with visions of an impending alien invasion.

In a town where you are only as good as your last picture, Bowfinger must conjure up the illusion of being a top-tier movie director, even though his filmography suggests otherwise, with not-so-classic titles such as "Buckets of Blondes". Part of the fun of this film is watching Martin's character juggle an increasing number of balls, trying to keep them up in the air as complication upon complication sets in. From his carefully-orchestrated interception of a high-power producer (Robert Downey Jr. of "U.S. Marshals") to staging complex shoots around his incognizant lead actor, Martin pulls off the role of harried-but-determined director with relish.

Martin and Murphy

Murphy is no slouch either, adeptly handling two contrasting characters, the brash loudmouth Kit and the bashful but sympathetic Jiff. With the former, Murphy gives his usual energetic performance that conveys the conflicting aspects of Kit's personality, the arrogant egomaniac, and the terrified nervous wreck. As for the latter, Murphy steps outside his usual routine to play a soft-spoken character so earnest and so forthright that he is willing to run across a busy highway without question just to make the director happy. Without the use of any prosthetics (as he did in "The Nutty Professor") and on the basis of performance alone, Murphy has created two distinct and memorable comic characters.

Director Frank Oz ("In & Out") once again shows that he is more than capable in handling comic material. He keeps the story and the humor moving at a brisk pace, and there is never a dull moment as Bowfinger's production mushrooms from one outrageous scheme to the next. Even more impressive, he also picks up on the subtle facial expressions that can divulge a comic situation's punch-line with nary a word spoken, from Robert Downey's double-take when confronted with Bowfinger's obvious fakery with a cellular phone, to Daisy's subtle expression of understanding as she schemes to sleep her way to the top.

The star system, funny accounting practices, the Church of Scientology... "Bowfinger" leaves no stone unturned when it comes to skewering Hollywood. Steve Martin, having spent a number of years in the business, provides a wonderfully mocking look at Tinseltown, similar to how he poked fun at life in Los Angeles in "L.A. Story", or at Westerns in "Three Amigos". Buoyed by Martin's own manic acting style as well as that of co-star Murphy, "Bowfinger" is an exceptionally well-crafted comedy that takes some nuggets of truth about movie-making and exaggerates them in wild and hilarious ways.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.


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