movie review by
Gary Johnson

 





(© 1999 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.)

Studio
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UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Movie
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BOWFINGER

Bowfinger
Many critics are referring to Bowfinger as a satire, but while it does contain some satirical elements, it's not really a satire. Instead, Bowfinger is a relatively sweet comedy about a pathetic bunch of would-be filmmakers. It's a lot closer to Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose than it is to Robert Altman's The Player.

Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin, in a screenplay he penned himself) is a nearly-bankrupt aspiring movie director. He has been "aspiring" for several decades now, but he hasn't given up. He desperately wants to make it big, to see his name emblazoned across the big screen, but for one reason or another, success has eluded him. He runs a ramshackle production company crammed with mementos of a career that sputtered and stalled: a Bowfinger brochure promises to teach you how to act in four easy lessons for $25 and a poster shows a smiling Bobby Bowfinger in a community-theater production. Now the telephone company is threatening to shut off his phone unless he pays his bill soon.

We get a pretty strong hint rightaway that lack of talent may be largely to blame. Bowfinger reads a screenplay for an absurd sci-fi/action movie called "Chubby Rain" and he gets all misty-eyed. He thinks the script's final words--"Got you suckas!"--are profound. No, Bowfinger isn't simply a victim of the capricious fates. He's a victim of his own marginal abilities. However, his failures haven't dampened his lust for success. Because he's oblivious to the hopelessness of his own situation, he's willing to take enormous risks. For example, when he can't secure a big name star for his movie, he decides to film dialogue scenes surreptitiously without the actor's knowledge. While the action star--Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy)--tries to eat lunch, Bowfinger sends in actors to confront Ramsey and spout nonsensical lines about alien invaders. Bowfinger's camera captures the ensuing confusion.

Bowfinger is populated with a crew of underdogs--at least they start out as underdogs. Eventually, however, like Bobby Bowfinger, they become con men, and that has the effect of making the characters stronger, less pathetic, and more likable. The Hollywood system has passed them by, but they're not giving up easily. If they can't make a movie on Hollywood's terms, they'll use guerrilla tactics to create their own set of rules. You have to respect their pluck and enthusiasm--even while howling at their crude ingenuity.

The main character who gets the least respect is Kit Ramsey. This is where Martin takes his satirical jabs. Ramsey is convinced that an industry-wide conspiracy is giving all the good action-movie catch phrases to white actors. He's also a member of a religious cult called "Mind Head," a thinly-veiled version of Scientology.

Bowfinger is less of a satire than it is the story of a desperate crew of underachievers who'll do anything to succeed. And Martin treats these characters with warmth. They're sort of like the filmmaking family in Boogie Nights. Christine Baranski plays an aging regional stage actress who fondly remembers her brief moment in the sun and pins her hopes on Bowfinger's movie. Heather Graham plays a Midwestern girl, fresh off the bus, who promptly begins sleeping her way up the ladder of success. Adam Alexi-Malle plays the no-talent screenwriter of "Chubby Rain" who gives up his day job to work on the movie--even though he's trying to support eight siblings. Kohl Sudduth plays the none-too-talented leading man of Bowfinger's movie. Jamie Kennedy (of Scream) plays a gofer at a major studio. He holds the key to every studio lock and, at the risk of losing his job, gives Bowfinger access to cameras and other filmmaking equipment. And Eddie Murphy, in addition to playing Kit Ramsey, also plays Jiff, a dim-witted-but-sweet would-be actor who is hired by Bowfinger because of his resemblance to Kit.

Martin and director Frank Oz aren't out to ridicule this group of characters. In fact, you'll probably be cheering for Bobby Bowfinger and his filmmaking crew to succeed--even as they're driving Kit Ramsey to the brink of insanity. Bowfinger isn't really about making Hollywood movies; it's about dreamers who refuse to let their own incompetence stand in the way of their aspirations.

Bowfinger is one the wittiest films of Steve Martin's career. After several dry years for Martin, Bowfinger reasserts his presence as one of America's finest comedic talents.


[rating: 3 of 4 stars]