Bowfinger (1999)

Directed by Frank Oz

Despite a misstep or two, Bowfinger is a wonderfully funny movie that begins with a great idea and pretty much sees it through. (The idea and script come from Steve Martin.)

The premise is so funny, it’s hard to imagine how the movie could go wrong. Fortunately it doesn’t and we get a great comedy.

Bowfinger (Steve Martin), of Bowfinger Productions, is a bad Hollywood director who is desperate to make another film. He has no money; bill collectors are calling. Still, he’s determined to make a movie. He acquires a “great script” (penned by an accountant-receptionist) called “Chubby Rain,” about aliens who attack earth in fat raindrops.

Although his problems are legion, Bowfinger’s biggest problem is getting a big name star.

He tries to get Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy), the biggest star in Hollywood but isn’t very successful. What’s he to do?

His answer is simple and lunatic. He’ll shoot his film, including scenes with his star, without the star knowing he’s in the film.

The movie manages to get everything out of this wild concept, including a number of great scenes where a befuddled and psychologically fragile Kit Ramsey finds himself accosted by people nattering about aliens and how he must save the world.

While the basic idea is strong comic notion, Martin’s script doesn’t rely on it entirely. It’s filled out and supported by a many other comic idea, almost all of which work, including Murphy’s Kit Ramsey as a star with a great many issues.

Martin’s Bowfinger is also supported by a great group of supporting characters, wannabe movie people who have never had a chance to make it in Tinsel Town but dream of hitting the big time if they can make that one big movie.

They all count on and place their dreams and hopes in Bowfinger, the second rate producer-director-scam artist heading up the project. This is tremendously funny while also having a touching quality.

We also get Eddie Murphy playing a second character, Kit Ramsey’s brother Jiffernson ‘Jiff’ Ramsey, a bumbling, not-terribly-bright geek. In both rolls, Murphy gives some of his best performances and perhaps it has to do with working with Martin and Oz. Some of his excesses seem tamped down; he seems more controlled. Or perhaps it’s because he is the centre of the film but rather part of a strong ensemble.

With Martin’s script and Frank Oz’s great directing sensibility, the movie manages to walk a delicate line between an edgy satire of Hollywood and the sentimental consequences of a group of dreamers committed to their last hope. It’s a difficult balance to finesse; more often than not, this kind of thing fails.

The movie could have gone either way – a biting, hard satire or sentimental tripe – but its carefully navigated between the two and is the better for it.

There may be a few moments here and there where the film loses a bit of its energy, but overall it succeeds brilliantly. It’s a genuinely funny movie with a great array of wonderful performances. I love Murphy’s Kit Ramsey, and I love Martin’s Bowfinger.

I think I’ve seen Bowfinger three or four times. It’s one of those I return to when I want to see something I know is funny. Each time I’ve seen it, I’ve found it a delight. It hasn’t worn on me yet. So … highly recommended.

3½ stars out of 4.

© 2003 Piddleville

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