Published on March 30th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Summary: Bowfinger is a brutal send-up of Hollywood entitlement and the movie business in general, but may also mark Steve Martin & Eddie Murphy's final funny gasps.
PG-13 | 97 min.
Director: Frank Oz | Screenplay: Steve Martin
Starring: Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham
Studio: Universal Pictures
There aren’t many stars in comedy who’ve been as profitable, versatile, and long-lasting as Steve Martin & Eddie Murphy. These guys have a combined 83 years in show business, both starting in standup, spending time either as a host or cast member at Saturday Night Live, and ending up as top-billed movie stars with hugely successful careers. It’s this longevity that makes them both perfect for a scathing parody of Hollywood filmmaking–which sums up this film in a nutshell.
1999’s Bowfinger is a very funny movie, but also a bit sad to watch today–as it may represent the last truly comedic gasps of both Martin and Murphy’s respective careers. In the 2000’s, we’ve seen them both star in a litany of family-friendly comedies that are lucky to provoke a light chuckle from discerning audiences. I’m fully convinced that this film marked the end of an era for both actors, and one that I hope they will aspire to find again.
The movie’s plot is very straightforward, it centers on ultra-low budget film producer Bobby Bowfinger (Martin) who has been saving up cash his entire life to make a masterpiece that Hollywood will remember him by. His scrounging has earned $2,184 for production costs to make a romantic sci-fi drama titled “Chubby Rain”, which was written by his screenwriter/accountant friend Afrim. The troupe of acting “talent” that Bowfinger International Pictures typically employs (including comedy-veteran Christine Baranski), is growing disenchanted at their chances of ever making a meaningful movie. To raise morale, Bowfinger convinces his actors/crew that he’s hired top-grossing blockbuster action star Kit Ramsey (Murphy) to play the film’s lead role.
Of course, Ramsey never agreed to be in the movie, so Bowfinger concocts a scheme of shooting Ramsey’s scenes via hidden camera to keep him involved. This leads to some hilarious scenes featuring Ramsey being blindsided in public by fully-costumed, in-character actors who are attempting to carry on scenes with him. Throw in Kit’s nerdy brother Jiff Ramsey (also Murphy) as a double for closeups and a small town girl named Daisy (Heather Graham) who will sleep with whoever she needs to get an acting career, and you’ve got a wild comic send-up.
The characters aren’t anything to write home about, as they are all fairly stock and one-dimensional–but the film’s wacky premise and unflinching finger-pointing at Hollywood’s weirdos are what make Bowfinger stand out from the crowd. Martin’s screenplay crams in decades of experiences with self-involved entertainers and doesn’t give them an ounce of respect.
Sure, the film’s treatment of actors both small and large is pointed, but it’s Bowfinger‘s parody of pseudo-religions like Scientology and Kabbalah that really stings. Murphy’s character Kit Ramsey is a hugely-popular film star who practices a hip form of new-age therapy called “Mindhead”. Mindhead is never specifically labeled a religion, it seems rather more like a form of therapy–but the mantra repeated by Ramsey (“Keep it together. Keep it together. Keep it together.”) certainly makes it feel more ritualistic. This also seems to be a take on the idea that celebrities enter rehab for every problem under the sun, as Kit’s “addiction” seems to be exposing himself to L.A. Lakers’ cheerleaders on a regular basis.
The movie features several bit roles featuring dramatic heavyweights like Robert Downey, Jr. as a kingpin movie producer and seminal tough guy Terence Stamp as the leader of Mindhead. In addition, the film’s leads make a very funny team although, as previously mentioned, it may be the last time we see either Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy getting big laughs.
Bowfinger may be simplistic in its take on Hollywood and the movie business, but it has more than its share of funny moments. Murphy shows off his gift for playing multiple characters while Martin is at his smarmy and sneaky best. As comedies go, this is more of a kick to the groin than a dry, subtle wit–but this overlooked gem is a highpoint for both of its stars.