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Bowfinger Print E-mail
Tuesday, 18 January 2000


Universal Home Video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Terence Stamp, Jamie Kennedy, Kohl Sudduth, Adam Alexi-Malle, Barry Newman, Robert Downey, Jr.
release year: 1999
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

While it's never quite as laugh-out-loud funny as you hope a teaming of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy would be, BOWFINGER is smart, observant, and surprisingly touching. It's a farce, an over-the-top comedy of broad situations and broader characters, set mostly in the sadly run down sections of Hollywood that are often are populated by the kind of people in the movie. It's one of those movies that seems better on a second viewing; this first-rate DVD is a perfect opportunity to visit it again.

Steve Martin wrote the script and plays the title role, Bobby Bowfinger, a Hollywood hanger-on who maybe, he thinks, has finally found the script that will bring him fame, fortune and FedEx deliveries: Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle), Bowfinger's Iranian accountant, has given him a script called "Chubby Rain." The title and premise -- aliens descending to Earth inside raindrops, hence making them chubby -- may not sound promising to you, but to Bowfinger they have hope and glory written all over them. If he can get the idea before the right executive, he tells a stunned Afrim, "we, and by 'we' I mean me, will be important."

Bowfinger has a little cluster of hangers-on who hope he might be their own ticket to fame and fortune. Carol (Christine Baranski) is an aging actress with a flamboyant, I'm-a-star demeanor; Slater (Kohl Sudduth) is a dimwitted would-be Young Male Lead, and Dave (Jamie Kennedy) actually works in movies as a gofer, but this gives him useful access.

At Le Dome, he manages to catch the attention of sleek, repellent studio executive Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey, Jr.), who indulges a whim by telling Bowfinger that yes, if he can get a major star, say action hero Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) as the lead for "Chubby Rain," he'd produce the movie. It's all horsepucky, of course, but Bowfinger wants to be encouraged, and so he dashes out the door hoping to somehow land Kit Ramsey.

Ramsey himself is wildly arrogant, paranoid and tyrannical, and slightly pathetic. Bowfinger finds his way to Ramsey's house, but is (literally) tossed out before he's made his pitch. Ramsey is also deeply into a vast self-help organization, MindHead, which is run by steely Terry Stricter (Terence Stamp). Ramsey is not only worried about his career, he's begun to be convinced aliens are out to get him. Meanwhile, Bowfinger is exuberantly trying to put the movie together anyway. He hires Daisy (Heather Graham), fresh off the bus from Ohio, as the leading lady. With her eye firmly on her own advancement, she sleeps her way through the cast and crew, arriving at last at the nonplused but eager Bowfinger himself.

Keeping the turndown a secret, he enlists a crew (illegal aliens scooped up in the desert); he tells them that Kit doesn't rehearse, and won't hang out with them, and sets out to film the movie. Actually, Kit doesn't even know the movie is being made. The idea is that Bobby's actors will dash up to Ramsey in public, and read off their lines while Bowfinger films from hiding. Kit is aghast that his most paranoid fantasies are coming true, because strange white people keep running up to him and babbling about aliens.

Needing someone to double for Kit, Bowfinger hires sweet, goofy nerd Jiff (also Eddie Murphy). Although he wears glasses and braces, Jiff does indeed resemble Kit -- and no wonder; he turns out to be Kit's brother. Jiff is happy to be involved in the production, delighted to be a trusted gofer, thrilled to be in scenes with a topless Daisy, but not really quite so happy when Bowfinger has him run across a busy freeway.

Director Frank Oz and Martin worked together several times before, and make a good team again. Bowfinger is the kind of sharpster whose scams work only on those who more or less want to go along with his schemes in the first place, but fortunately for him, that's exactly who he's dealing with. He's a bit like Martin's version of Sergeant Bilko, not quite so clever or inventive, but fast-thinking in a limited, low-budget kind of way.

Eddie Murphy overdoes the nerdy aspects of Jiff a little; braces on teeth may be amusing for a moment, but they're not funny every time he bares his oversized choppers at the camera. Nonetheless, Jiff has a convincing sweetness, a trait Murphy's rarely demonstrated before. He's consistently funny as the crumbling Kit Ramsey, whose bluster hides monumental insecurity. Murphy generally plays the fast-talking con man, sort of a human Bugs Bunny, and hasn't had many opportunities to play a guy we laugh at but don't like. Kit is as obnoxious as Jiff is endearing, and Murphy's clearly having fun at both extremes.

Heather Graham is simultaneously sweet and blood-curdlingly calculating as the I'll-be-a-star-or-die Daisy, although, since this is a broad comedy, there's not much to her beyond her sweetness and her calculating use of her sexuality. Likewise, there's not a lot of variation to Christine Baranski's performance, but she's peculiarly convincing in the role anyway.

We're supposed to buy into Bowfinger's dreams, but they involve so much blithe misuse of others that it's not easy to completely sympathize with him. The movie should have been either more or less goofy than it is; more goofy and it wouldn't matter whether we sympathize with Bowfinger. Less goofy, and he'd be seen as more of a real person.

Nonetheless, flaws and all, BOWFINGER is pretty damned funny most of the time, and on a second viewing, its shy little heart becomes more apparent. You might find yourself buying into Bowfinger's dreams, too.

The DVD has the usual extras of chapter stops, language choices, etc., and includes the "making-of" documentary created to promote the film. However, this one, "Bowfinger's Big Thing," is distinctly better than most of these; there's real observation, real insight, and far more interesting commentary than you expect in this form of advertising. The selection of deleted scenes and outtakes, though peculiarly all confined to Bowfinger's house, are also more interesting than usual. For example, the longest deleted scene is a funny alternate version of the opening scene; it was rewritten, trimmed, and reshot. In the outtakes, it looks like Eddie Murphy love staying in character even when others (or even he) blow lines.

Even better is Frank Oz's commentary track, one of the best done so far. He's engaged, honest and warm, and extremely, astonishingly informative. It's full of interesting detail, such as when Oz points out the reshoots, or explains why and how something was cut. It's practically a mini-film education in itself, and can hardly be praised too highly. I hope Oz does the same for all his movies.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Includes making-of documentary, outtakes, deleted scenes, and commentary by director Frank Oz
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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