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Bowfinger (1999)


What lifts this film up and makes it not just funny but great is that lurking behind the facade of a light-hearted slapstick about movie-making is a fairly devastating satire of Hollywood and its denizens.  So on the surface you've got Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin), B-movie producer/director, using his last $2000 to make the film, Chubby Rain, from a script by his earnest Muslim accountant.  Promised major studio backing if he can just secure the services of action-film superstar, Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy), but realizing he's got no chance of doing so, Bowfinger decides to just surreptitiously include Kit in the movie.  This leads to some hilarious guerilla filmmaking, in which the other characters from Chubby Rain, to whom Bowfinger has not explained what's really going on, run up and interact with an increasingly bewildered and terrified Ramsey.  As we soon learn, Kit's frantic reaction to the dialogue and special effects of Bowfinger's invading-space-aliens film is exacerbated by some significant prior mental problems, which include an obsession with exposing himself to the Laker girls.

Also assisting in the production of the film are : a devious studio prop man, who steals everything from cars to cameras for Bowfinger; a seemingly fresh-scrubbed country girl, Daisy (Heather Graham); a serious, but bad, professional actress (Christine Baranski); Kit's twin, but excessively geeky, brother, Jiff (also played by Eddie Murphy);  a gaggle of illegal Mexicans, picked up at the border; and even Bowfinger's multi-talented dog.  All add to the  mayhem in their own ways.

But meanwhile, Kit turns out to be a member of a cult called Mind Head, led by Terrence Stamp in a funny turn, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Scientology.  Heather Graham's supposedly innocent character sleeps her way through the entire Bowfinger operation, whoring for more lines and a bigger role.  In the final scene of the movie she even turns up with a lesbian girlfriend, who just happens to be a major Hollywood player, summoning memories of Steve Martin's own relationship with a pre-Ellen Anne Heche.  And Graham's entire role appears to be an implicit critique of her own career which seems to be likewise based almost exclusively on her breasts.  Kit Ramsey's claims of racism in the industry are made fun of as he at one point adds up the "k's" in a movie script and divides by three to show his agent how often "KKK" appears.  Several other ostensibly good-natured bits that we can see on further examination have an edge to them include a scene where Bowfinger gets Jiff to run across a busy thruway by telling him that the cars are driven by stunt men, but which also shows how little he cares about the actor's safety, and a conversation where Jiff asks wonderingly why someone's willing to pay him just for looking like someone else, raises inevitable questions about an industry where mere physical appearance can mean millions.  In fact, the whole conceit of the story, that you could basically make a successful action flick without the big-salaried star knowing he'd been in the movie, and that everyone in the movie business is just using everyone else, is a pretty tough commentary on the current state of Hollywood.

This harsher undercurrent gives the movie a nasty, though subtle, edge that I really liked, but which some critics found off-putting.  Much of the potential tension is defused by Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy who give tremendous performances, Murphy in the seemingly tougher dual role, and Martin in the actually more difficult balancing act of making Bobby Bowfinger likable even as he cheats, lies to, and steals from everyone in sight.  The end result is a picture that works on two levels, one of mostly broad physical comedy, the other darker and more satirical.  Comedy is hard enough to get right, but to nail it above and below the surface is an exceedingly rare achievement; that it manages this unusual fate makes Bowfinger one of the best comedies of the '90s and vastly underrrated.

(Reviewed:05-Aug-02)

Grade: (A)

Websites:

See also:

    -INFO : Bowfinger (1999) (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Frank Oz (Imdb)
    -PROFILE : Steve Martin, in Revision :  How the Jerk became a man of letters. (RJ SMITH, August 1999, NY Times Magazine)
    -PROFILE : Fickle Bowfinger of fate (NEAL WATSON,  January 21, 2000, Edmonton Sun)
    -PROFILE :  I'm KIDDING! (STEVE TILLEY, August 15, 1999, Express Writer)
    -PROFILE :  Say what?! (STEVE TILLEY,  August 8, 1999, Edmonton Express)
    -PROFILE :  Our favourite Martin (DARRYL STERDAN, August 13, 1999, Winnipeg Sun)
    -PROFILE : Steve Martin Getting Serious (NATASHA STOYNOFF, August 8, 1999, Toronto Sun)
    -PROFILE : Graham's a tough cookie (STEVE TILLEY, August 14, 1999 , Edmonton Express)
    -REVIEWS : of Bowfinger (Metacritic)
    -REVIEWS : of Bowfinger (Movie Review Query Engine)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (James Berardinelli's ReelViews)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (JANET MASLIN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Bob Graham, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Wesley Morris, SF Examiner)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Alexander Walker, This is London)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Steve Tilley, Edmonton Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (RANDALL KING, Winnipeg Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (BRUCE KIRKLAND, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (TYLER McLEOD, Calgary Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (HAL HINSON, New Times LA)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Charles Taylor, Sight and Sound)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Alex Patterson, Eye Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Donna Bowman, Nashville Scene)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Coury Turczyn, MetroPulse)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Noah Masterson, Weekly Alibi)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Russell Smith, Astin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Brian Koller, Films Graded)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Kate Lavia, Journal of Film & Religion)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Movie Parables, Michael Elliott)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (Bob Smithouser, Plugged In : Focus on the Family)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger  (Douglas Downs, Christian Spotlight on the Movies)
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger (US Catholic Bishops)

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