There’s nothing Hollywood likes better than taking a fawningly humorous look at the art of moviemaking. (Well, maybe they like making cheap sequels better, but I’m sure this comes a close second!) Bowfinger is one such comedy, following a desperate man who will do anything to get a movie made. With the comic talent of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy involved, you should expect a film with at least a few yuks. But Bowfinger exceeds that expectation, and is a film that ranks among the best work of either comedian.
Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) is a struggling small-time producer at the end of his rope. He’s desperate to have a hit picture, and will go to any lengths to get one. When his accountant, Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle), writes an alien-invasion script, Chubby Rain, Bowfinger smells a hit. (Can any film with the line, “Gotcha, suckaz!” not succeed?)
A studio executive, Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.), grudgingly agrees to distribute Chubby Rain, provided Bowfinger can enlist hot actor Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) to star (which Jerry knows is an impossibility). He thinks right, for Kit is one of the most tempramental actors in Hollywood, nay the world. With one glance at Bowfinger and the Chubby Rain script, Kit turns him down cold.
But a little problem like that won’t stop Bobby Bowfinger. He brainstorms and comes up with a brilliant idea. His ragtag film crew will follow Kit Ramsey around town, and his actors will simply walk up to Kit on the street, say their lines, and depart. With a little bit of creative editing, Kit Ramsey is in the film! It’s foolproof, isn’t it?
If only the script for Chubby Rain was as brilliant as Steve Martin’s script for Bowfinger, the crew would have nothing to worry about. This is a wickedly hilarious piece of writing, that produces a great role for Martin, and not one, but two of the best roles Eddie Murphy has had in over a decade.
While Steve Martin is the spine of this movie, Eddie Murphy gives it its energy. As Kit Ramsey, Eddie has a gleeful time playing a spoiled and paranoid actor, slowly being driven insane by the incomprehensible antics of the film crew following him. He also delivers the film’s finest role as Jiff, a sheepishly nerdy lookalike for Kit, who serves as his stand-in for the film, as well as an errand boy for the crew. Jiff allows Murphy to display a human (yet still funny) side he has only ventured near in The Nutty Professor, without that film’s crude comedy.
Both actors have the backing of a strong supportive cast. Heather Graham, as a fresh off the bus nymphet from Ohio, and Christine Baranski, as an aging second-rate diva, shine as Chubby Rain’s pathetically bad actresses. Jamie Kennedy has a few good moments as a pal of Bowfinger’s who just happens to work in a studio. But several of the film’s best moments belong to the crew (Alfred De Contreras, Ramiro Fabian, Alejandro Patino and Johnny Sanchez).
The movie rarely runs astray, however the biggest series of jokes that fizzle involve a Scientology-esque religion, Mind Head, that counts Kit Ramsey as one of its devotees. Part therapist, part agent, Terry Stricter (Terrence Stamp), the founder of Mind Head, never quite blends in with the rest of the movie. It is unclear whether the Mind Head scenes were watered down, or simply never were that strong, but they pale in comparison to the rest of the movie.
It’s easy to draw comparisons between this film and Ed Wood. Both are about low-budget movie visionaries who make up for their lack of talent with an overabundance of enthusiasm. Each features a wacky ensemble, and some really, really bad acting (intentionally). However, where Ed Wood occasionally veered into sentimentality, Bowfinger stays purely on the comedy course.
Director Frank Oz has a knack for picking and cultivating some of the best comedies of recent years. From Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to In and Out, Oz has the gift for pulling great performances out of his actors. Bowfinger is another prize he can add to his mantle.