Screenplay : Steve Martin
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Steve Martin (Bobby Bowfinger), Eddie Murphy (Kit Ramsey/ Jiff Ramsey), Heather Graham (Daisy), Christine Baranski (Carol), Jamie Kennedy (Dave), Adam Alexi-Malle (Afrim), Kohl Sudduth (Slater), Barry Newman (Kit's Agent), Robert Downey Jr. (Jerry Renfro), Terence Stamp (Terry Stricter)
In "Bowfinger," Steve Martin plays the title character, Bobby Bowfinger, a struggling wannabe producer who is trying to get his first picture off the ground. This movie is a science fiction epic called "Chubby Rain," so named because the aliens come to earth in raindrops. With just over $2,000 and a crew that includes his accountant-turned-screenwriter and a group of illegal Mexicans, Bowfinger is in way over his head. But, then again, you get the feeling that he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Bowfinger," which was also written by Martin, is about the subversion of cinematic quality to the simple excitement of the filmmaking process. It is a celebration of the small fish in the big pond, the powerless, desperate producer who still loves movies for their own sake versus the big corporate suits who have lost the creative spark because all they think about is the bottom line. Bowfinger may not have much talent or even a great deal of common sense (his decision to make "Chubby Rain" should speak for that). But, he does have enthusiasm and dedication, which is more than can be claimed by most of the rich players in Hollywood, epitomized by Robert Downey Jr.'s self-centered, big-league producer, and Eddie Murphy's neurotic, egotistical, high-salary action star.
There have been many movies about making movies, but "Bowfinger" is one of the few that celebrates the process by which a movie might be made. The excitement is in the day-by-day procedures, even if those procedures for the cash-strapped Bobby Bowfinger include "borrowing" the equipment from a major studio, gathering illegal aliens at the border, and misleading his entire crew into thinking that he is in control of the situation.
Bowfinger is so happy just to be making a movie, that he gives little thought to what he is truly doing. Hence, when he is unable to secure Hollywood's biggest actor, Kit Ramsey (Murphy), for the lead role, he is satisfied to simply film Kit on the sly without his knowing it, and hiring a lookalike named Jiff (also played by Murphy) to stand in for the close-ups. Some of the movie's funniest scenes involve Bowfinger and his rag-tag crew figuring out where Kit is going to be, and then filming in secret while actors walk up to him and say lines that make sense within Bowfinger's movie, but to Kit are utter gibberish.
Throughout the film, I kept thinking of two other real-life filmmaker who bear a sort of spiritual similarity to Bobby Bowfinger: Ed Wood and John Waters. While Wood and Waters are on different planes of filmmaking competence, they are both examples of directors who simply loved to make films, and they loved to make films independently the way they wanted to make them. Both directors also had an oddball entourage of actors and crew that followed them from movie to movie: Wood had Tor Johnson, Criswell, Bela Lugosi, Vampira, and Dolores Fuller, while Waters had Divine, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, and Edith Massey.
Like them, Bowfinger has his own entourage, which includes Daisy (Heather Graham), an aspiring and somewhat dim young actress just off the bus from Ohio who sleeps with anyone who she thinks can get her more lines in the movie; Carol (Christine Baranski), an ex-stage actress who over-emotes in everything she says and does (watching her deliver a line like "You prefer alien love!" with Laurence Olivier-like intensity is alone worth the price of admission); Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle), Bowfinger's Iranian accountant who penned the script for "Chubby Rain" and also designs its gross special effects; and, of course, Jiff (Murphy), Bowfinger's Kit Ramsey look-alike who takes more pride in running errands than in his physical similarities to a superstar.
While "Bowfinger" is primarily about this group of misfits trying to put together a Hollywood product, Martin and director Frank Oz ("In & Out") take several opportunity to poke fun at Tinseltown and its decadent extremes. This is never so obvious as in the scenes that take place in MindHead, a cultist psycho-religious group for the superrich that is an obvious satire of Scientology, the "religion" founded by L. Ron Hubbard that has attracted the likes of John Travolta and Tom Cruise. Kit Ramsey is a dedicated follower of MindHead, which helps him deal with his paranoid delusions about aliens and conspiracies. Of course, having Bowfinger's actors constantly approaching him on the street and uttering lines about an alien take-over sends Kit into a complete panic that not even MindHead can help him with.
"Bowfinger" sags a bit in the middle, and it features a somewhat silly and convenient deus ex machina that allows Bowfinger to complete his project. But, the movie has energy and originality, and strong performances from all its comic actors (with the exception of Heather Graham who, like she did in the "Austin Powers" sequel, comes across as a bit flat). Martin does a fine job of bringing poignancy to Bowfinger's con game, showing that it isn't so much about making himself rich or powerful, but simply about fulfilling his lifelong dream to be a director.
Murphy also excels at what has become his forte: multiple roles in the same movie. He is best as Jiff, a somewhat pathetic character who has many of the movie's funniest and most moving scenes. Seeing these two actors working together for the first time in a movie is something of a rarity. That they also appear in a smart, funny movie is just icing on the cake.
©1999 James Kendrick