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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Bowfinger (1999)
2 Stars

Directed by Frank Oz
Cast: Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Jamie Kennedy, Adam Alexi-Malle, Terence Stamp, Robert Downey Jr.
1999 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 16, 1999.

Writer-actor Steve Martin has a genuine love for the art of cinema and filmmaking in general. How did I come to this conclusion? Easy. Because no one could have possibly written the new comedy, "Bowfinger," without having an overwhelming fondness for movies, as the main character is the 49-year-old struggling novice director, Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin), a man whose inspiration was no doubt Edward D. Wood, Jr., the '50s and '60s filmmaker who had a passion for his craft, but made what some widely consider the worst films ever made, most notably "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Glen or Glenda." With his stock acting troupe that includes a Mexican screenwriter (Adam Alexi-Malle) and Carol (Christine Baranski), his loyal sole actress, Bobby Bowfinger has been attempting to get a film greenlit in Hollywood for years now, even having set up his own production company (without any productions to its name, thus far), Bowfinger International Pictures. One day, a light is sparked in Bobby when his writer hands him a sci-fi script entitled, "Chubby Rain," about aliens that fall to Earth within raindrops. Cleverly running into distinguished film producer Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.), Renfro lets Bobby know after reading the first and last pages that he will have a "go" picture if he can get popular movie star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) to agree to topline the project. After a disasterous encounter with him at his mansion, Bobby, in ultra desperation, devises a plan to still make "Chubby Rain" with Kit: he will get his assistant (Jamie Kennedy) to stake out Kit's every move, hide a video camera out of sight, and instruct the rest of his actors, playing aliens, to walk up to him, say their lines, and let Kit react to the scene as if it is real--because for Kit, of course, it is real, and he soon becomes convinced that people are actually out to get him. To Bobby's surprise, this unconventional, decidedly illegal, method of filmmaking starts off very well, but when Kit finally goes into hiding, it is up to the team to find someone to be Kit's stand-in, which he finds in Jiff, a nerdy, braces-wearing McDonald's employee.

As the premise for a big-studio comedy, "Bowfinger" is dynamite in the story department. Reminiscent in some ways to Tim Burton's 1994 film, "Ed Wood," "Bowfinger" is fascinating throughout due to its meticulous, intriguing look at moviemaking. The way that Bobby Bowfinger gets his actors to interact with an unknowing Kit Ramsey is ingenious, and cause for many big laughs, while director Frank Oz (1991's "What About Bob?" and 1997's "In & Out") is just the right man for the job, a talent who is almost a sure-thing when it comes to making a feature comedy.

Unfortunately, aside from its sheer inventiveness, which helps to make the picture worth seeing for this reason alone, "Bowfinger" is fairly shallow when handling its many characters. As the at-first-innocent Daisy who comes to L.A. to be a star and decides to sleep with everyone she comes into contact with to get a boost in the biz, Heather Graham is wonderfully giddy and high-spirited, and her performance is an improvement on a comedic level from her ho-hum appearance in this summer's earlier, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." What is so disappointing about Daisy, however, is that her character would have been more funny and likable had she not metamorphosized virtually overnight from a ditzy, innocent country girl (she makes her first appearance by getting off a bus, walking into an audition for Bowfinger, and earnestly asking, "Is this where you come to be a star?") into a promiscuous actress who goes through men (and women) like she goes through packets of ketchup. In perhaps the film's best performance and a more substantially large role than she usually plays, Christine Baranski is top-notch and hilariously wacky as an astoundingly over-the-top actress who, in "Chubby Rain," plays the role of a knife-wielding alien who repeatedly screams, "Bastard!" every time she sees Kit. As for Jamie Kennedy (1996's "Scream" and 1997's "Scream 2"), as Bowfinger's camera operator and assistant, he is almost just as wasted as he has been in every film following his stint in that popular horror series.

All of the talk I had heard going into "Bowfinger" was about Eddie Murphy's standout duel roles as Kit Ramsey and Jiff, but that is where the film's most major flaw lies. Although Murphy appears throughout the film and is engaging with what he is given, he plays the two roles only half of the time, therefore making both Kit and Jiff one-dimensonal supporting characters. Once Jiff enters into the film midway through, Kit mostly disappears, and nothing is really done with Murphy's second personality, aside from using him in one of the comedic centerpieces, in which he has to run across a roaring, busy freeway. Regardless of the hype, it is Steve Martin who is the star of the picture, and his Bobby Bowfinger feels tailor-made for the actor (no shock there, since Martin wrote the screenplay). The problem is, for a comedy, Martin isn't particularly funny either, but mostly "the straight man" for which everyone else plays off of.

And so lies the outcome of "Bowfinger," which is that the film is far more successful in its examination of pedestrian moviemaking, and gains most of its laughs from this aspect, rather than in the mostly forgettable characters. For example, one of the highlights of the picture is a sequence set in a parking deck in which Kit keeps hearing a second pair of footsteps every time he walks. I won't give away the comic payoff, but it is a laugh riot the way that the scene is milked for all its worth, as well as in its perfect comic timing. Too many problems detract from "Bowfinger" to make it be considered a "great" comedy, but it is a good one, not to mention the most entertaining movie about movies that I've seen in a few years (at the very least, better than the disasterous 1998 bomb, "Burn Hollywood Burn: An Alan Smithee Film"). For its amount of laughs, however, it places below the likes of this summer's "American Pie," "Drop Dead Gorgeous," and "Dick," well above that of "Austin Powers" and "Mystery Men," and about equal to "Big Daddy." Not at all a bad place to stand in a comedy-crowded summer season.

©1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman