Two-bit director stalks superstar to make his masterpiece in mildly Hollywood-mocking 'Bowfinger'
Steve Martin's second sacchariney satire of life in L.A., "Bowfinger" is a junk food comedy, packed with instant gratification laughs that fade away almost immediately after the credits roll.
An often hilarious mockery of the film industry written by its star, the movie gets its giggles by lampooning tantrum-prone A-list actors, Scientology, cell phone culture and the fine line between $90-million action movies and the unmitigated stupidity of B-grade monster flicks, among other things.
Martin plays Bobby Bowfinger, a desperate, middle-aged slouch of a movie maker with a dead-end career who has grafted an ionic column facade onto his run down, freeway-adjacent stucco bungalow home/office in an attempt to give it the grandiose air of a studio entrance.
Bowfinger is pushing 50 and after years of producing two-bit schlock (posters on his wall have titles like "A Bucket of Blondes"), he's positively frantic for what he sees as a last shot for a big break.
With an alleged masterpiece, alien invasion script called "Chubby Rain" in his pocket, he sets out to recruit Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy), the biggest action star on the planet, for his lead, and is thrown out on his ear almost instantaneously.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, so Bowfinger decides to put Kit Ramsey in the movie whether he likes it or not. His cast and crew begin stalking the star with hidden (not to mention stolen) cameras. Actors run up to him on the street and say their lines, then run away. As long as Ramsey is in the shot, Bowfinger is happy. He'll piece the story together later.
Murphy is a riot as the already-paranoid Ramsey, whose unhinged neuroses go off the chart when these strangers start assaulting him with nonsense about alien invaders and saving the world. But he's even funnier as Jiff, a four-eyed, brace-faced, 100-percent pure dork Bowfinger hires as Ramsey's double for long shots and, it turns out, love scenes.
Those love scenes weren't part of the original "Chubby Rain" script, but the writer makes revisions after some horizontal persuasion from Daisy (Heather Graham), a feeble but not as naive as she seems rookie starlet, fresh off the bus from Ohio.
Directed by Frank Oz ("In and Out"), "Bowfinger" is enjoyably idiotic and has a steady supply of hard laughs, but Hollywood is such an easy target and as a Tinsle Town satire Martin's screenplay is pretty toothless. It goes for lovable when it should be going for the jugular. Even though the industry mockery is adequately astute, when the lights come up, most of film is quickly forgettable.
Some of the performances do stick with you, however -- especially Murphy's. He's good as the arrogant nutcase Kit Ramsey, who wants a great catch phrase more than anything else in life -- but he absolutely kills as the dim-witted Jiff, the kind of guy who can't help but whisper "Awesome!" and grin like an idiot when Daisy takes off her top for a sex scene take.
Even though it's obvious that the story for "Chubby Rain," the picture-within-a-picture, was written around gags Martin wanted to squeeze into "Bowfinger," the movie is at its best when the desperate director is shooting Ramsey on the sly and trying to MacGuyver his movie together on his $2,184 life savings (all of it in one dollar bills).
But while Martin's first SoCal spoof -- the sweetly surreal "L.A. Story" -- was a delightful, old-fashioned romance with a twist, set against the ironically unromantic backdrop of Los Angeles (but not the film business), the soft touch of "Bowfinger" is just too docile for an industry farce. And it gets especially pappy toward the end. When the dreadful "Chubby Rain" finally has its star-studded premiere, Oz plays it like a magical moment, with an earnest emotional swell in the soundtrack.
"Bowfinger" isn't bad. I laughed as much at this film as I have at anything this summer except for "South Park." But the comedy has a half-life no longer than the time it takes to walk to the car when the movie's over.