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Review: 'Bowfinger' over-the-top farcical treat

Web posted on:
Thursday, August 12, 1999 5:50:40 PM EST

By Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- In Hollywood, if something happens more than once in a 20-minute period, it's generally labeled a "trend." With that in mind, the latest "trend" -- based on the recent releases of "Dick," "Mystery Men" and now "Bowfinger" -- seems to be broad, farcical comedies based on a one-note premise.

Or could it just be summertime?

Two of Steve Martin's best films were "Roxanne" (1987) and "L.A. Story" (1991) -- he wrote and starred in both of them. He's again put pen to paper and created the screenplay for "Bowfinger," in which he plays the title role.

Theatrical preview for "Bowfinger"
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Paul's Pix: "Bowfinger"
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It's a story about a man who's a two-bit but still lovable con artist -- a poster child for losers everywhere. Bobby Bowfinger, who hovers on the edge of Tinseltown's outer limits, is a self-anointed film producer who's peddling a ludicrous script. He's followed by an entourage of would-be actors and filmmakers -- a band of misfits.

Heather Graham -- of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" -- leads the pack as Daisy, an opportunistic young woman from the Midwest with stars in her eyes and ants in her pants. As in the past, Graham displays an intense sexuality bathed in wide-eyed innocence.

Christine Baranski nails her character of Carol, a delusional former stage actress clinging to her moments of glory from the past. Newcomer Kohl Sudduth plays the dim-witted Slater, who feels his talent is just waiting to be discovered.

Jamie Kennedy ("Scream," 1996," and "Scream 2," 1997) plays Dave, a guy who works as a go-fer at a major studio and "borrows" cameras, lighting kits and other filmmaking equipment while acting as Bowfinger's cameraman. Adam Alexi-Malle does a nice turn as Afrim, an Iranian accountant-screenwriter who has, along with everyone else, hitched his wagon to Bowfinger's questionable star.

Mild Murphy

Which brings us to the film's co-star, Eddie Murphy. In "Bowfinger," Murphy is reunited with producer Brian Grazer, who was behind another film in which Murphy also played duel roles, "The Nutty Professor" (1996). Here, he again pulls double duty.

For some filmgoers, a little Murphy goes a long way, but this film is tailored to his manic talents. And his screen time is cut in half since he's the second banana here. Murphy appears as brothers Jiff and Kit Ramsey. Jiff is an intellectually challenged nerd with braces and thick glasses. Kit is a high-profile, egoistic, paranoid, action star.

After a clever scene in which Bowfinger pitches his movie idea about an alien invasion of earth to a studio boss played by Robert Downey Jr., our would-be filmmaker gets a green light. But only if he delivers Hollywood's man of the moment, Kit Ramsey. The star, of course, isn't interested. So our con-man hero comes up with a scheme to ambush Kit at outdoor cafés, and parking garages -- any public place -- with a film crew and his ragtag band of players all shouting meaningless dialogue at the confused and frightened star.

The plan is to secretly make Kit Ramsey the inadvertent star of Bowfinger's shoestring-budget independent film called "Chubby Rain," by piecing together all the ambush footage with other scenes shot on the side. Then Bowfinger stumbles upon Kit's lookalike brother Jiff. He's more than happy to stand in for his famous brother's close-ups, and -- presto -- instant movie magic.

Comic chemistry

Murphy and Martin, in their first film together, make a perfect pair. Neither man has ever worked before with another male co-star of the same comedic magnitude and their unique talents play off each other well. They're vaguely reminiscent of another comedy team in which one man played a smooth-talking, borderline con man and the other played an out-of-control, motormouth suffering arrested development -- Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.


"Bowfinger" could just be viewed as an out-there, over-the-top spoof about Hollywood, films, celebrities and even the Church of Scientology. But Martin has written a sweet story about a group of outsiders with impossible dreams -- you may find yourself cheering them on as they make their little movie despite, or probably because of, their total incompetence.

"Bowfinger" also reunites Martin with director Frank Oz. They've collaborated on three other films in the past -- "Little Shop Of Horrors" in 1986, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" in 1988 and "Housesitter" in 1992. Both men have a keen sense for the absurd and strong instincts for comedic timing and pacing. Oz lets the manic action in this film build slowly until its climax, when it finally becomes a frothy mixture of hysteria.

If you're looking for popcorn-chomping, mindless entertainment, then "Bowfinger" may fit the bill.

"Bowfinger" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG-13 with a running time of 97 minutes.

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'Bowfinger' official Web site
Universal Pictures
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