Thursday 21 February 2013

Movie Review: Bowfinger (1999)

A boisterous comedy that surpasses a modest premise, Bowfinger brings out the best from two legendary comedians. Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy team up and deliver the quality chuckles in a story of Hollywood ingenuity on a shoestring.

Producer Bobby Bowfinger (Martin) lives off the scraps that bottom-feeders leave behind. Broke and desperate to manufacture a hit, he latches on to a ludicrous alien invasion script called Chubby Rain by accountant Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle). Bowfinger uses about $2,000 that he collected as a child to finance the project, and hires illegal migrants as his crew and the straight-off-the-bus Daisy (Heather Graham) as his leading lady.  He also dreams up the idea of surreptitiously filming scenes with action superstar Kit Ramsey (Murphy) and inserting them into the film, thereby creating a star vehicle without having to secure or pay for a star.

Ramsey has an irrational fear of conspiracy theories and alien abduction scenarios, and uses the services of MindHead (a Scientology-like institution) and its head Terry (Terence Stamp) to barely keep his life together. Meanwhile, Bowfinger hires Kit's younger and slower brother Jefferson (also Murphy) to use as a stunt-double. When Bowfinger's actors start hovering around Kit and incomprehensibly interacting with him for the benefit of hidden cameras, Kit's paranoia spirals out of control, but Bowfinger is undeterred in his quest to secure his movie.

Bowfinger clearly defines its targets and squarely hits every one. Making a good movie about the making of a bad movie is not easy, and credit goes to Martin's barbed script, which combines sharp industry satire with broad humour. Director Frank Oz shoots over the shoulder of the fake production, exaggerating with a sharp outline everything in Bowfinger's film that makes cheap productions cheap, from poor acting to rudimentary special effects and unlicensed use of locations.

The character of Bowfinger is ridiculously resourceful, and Martin clearly had a grand time creating a producer who can get things done on next to no budget. From swiping a fashionable jacket to deploying his dog to create scary footstep noises, Bowfinger is never out of ideas on how to get the next scene into the can and Kit Ramsey into his movie without spending a dime. Martin keeps his acting relatively understated, allowing the ingenuity of the character to emerge unhindered by physical histrionics.

Murphy delivers astute comic timing in both his roles. Kit Ramsey is filled with loud bravado but also wracked by the insecurities of an undeservedly wealthy star, and Murphy switches between authoritative and submissive with delightful precision. His performance as Jefferson is even more arresting, the younger brother making up for the lack of intellect with an ever-present smile, even more heart, and wide-eyed enthusiasm for being anywhere near a Hollywood production.

Heather Graham adds to the fun by riffing on her Boogie Nights persona. Daisy treats sex like cold currency, and methodically sleeps her way to better information and better exposure. Even on lousy Bobby Bowfinger productions there are benefits for a starlet to sleep her way to the top, despite the top still being the bottom. Terence Stamp occupies the deep dark centre of MindHead, Martin's script taking the time to aim purposeful jabs at the manufactured nonsense of money-milking psychobabble duping conceited stars while masquerading as religion.

Christine Baranski as a has-been actress trying to reclaim old glories, and Robert Downey Jr. as a successful director occupying a diametrically opposite world to Bowfinger but sitting at the next table, complete the cast.

Bowfinger is bright and breezy, and in less than 100 minutes exposes the other side of movie-making glamour, where the mixture of misplaced ambition and deep-seated desperation creates rich territory for plenty of laughter.

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