(Frank Oz, USA, 1999)


Bowfinger, written by Steve Martin, is an audience-friendly version of all the dark satires on American filmmaking produced over the ’90s: The Player (1992), The Big Picture (1989), Mistress (1991), Boogie Nights (1997). Closer to the heady whimsy of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994), it traces the collision of a Z-grade entrepreneur, Bobby Bowfinger (Martin), with the tacky glitz of the major industry players.

Bowfinger’s dream is to make a film starring the action hero, Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy). After bluffing his way onto the production slate of a nervous, young executive (Robert Downey Jr.), Bowfinger hatches the Ed Wood-style plan of shooting Kit unawares whenever he appears in public. Later, he will splice these glimpses into a sci-fi story carried by the rest of his schlock cast.

Destiny hands Bowfinger an extra special gift when he unknowingly hires the ultra-nerdish Jiff – Kit’s brother. The prospect of seeing Murphy in yet another exhibitionistic, two-in-one role will fill some viewers with dread, but here the actor’s skills of mimicry and disguise are put to good use.

It is a crazy premise, but Martin’s script and Frank Oz’s direction handle the absurdity with aplomb. The best laughs come when Bowfinger’s unfussy storyline coincides exactly with the range of paranoias and neuroses currently experienced by Kit in his mixed-up life – worries that not even his New Age guru (a hilarious turn from Terence Stamp) can entirely assuage.

There is an aspect of Martin’s creative sensibility that comes uncomfortably close to Woody Allen at his snooty worst. Jokes at the expense of a promiscuous, young starlet (Heather Graham) and the members of a Mexican underclass recruited by Bowfinger as his crew, at first have a brittle, nasty ring.

Soon enough, however, the film turns this tendency around by borrowing Boogie Nights‘ interest in the makeshift family created by such zany, on-the-fly, ‘exploitation’ movie-making. The success that awaits Bowfinger and his comrades is ridiculous, but it still manages to impart an oddly warm glow.

MORE Oz: In & Out, The Indian in the Cupboard, The Score, The Stepford Wives

© Adrian Martin December 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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