Posted: 08/24/1999




by Del Harvey

Steve writes a good one for Eddie.

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Have you every wanted to make a movie, Binky? Have you ever imagined yourself sitting behind the wheel of your Mercedes, cell phone pressed to your ear with Bruce Willis on hold while you’re sweet-talking Demi on the other line? Having lunch at Le Dome? Shopping on Rodeo? Sunsets at Malibu?

Snap out of it, Binky. L.A. is a city of 13 million people, each one nuttier than a squirrel, each one looking for a break and living beyond their means. And every day thousands of people go to “Hollywood” to be stars. You ever been to Hollywood, Binky? It’s an armpit comprised of one busy main street crawling with crackheads and cokewhores. “Making it” is a million-to-one shot and those few that do make it are damned talented or damned lucky and probably a bit of both. Popularity is a fleeting thing, even for people like Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy.

But after years of flops and wasted efforts, many films aimed strictly at the boxoffice and middle-America, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy have finally returned to form in BOWFINGER, a comedy about a subject they both know very well, the absurdities of Hollywood. Murphy steals the show in dual roles and at last proves he has the professional depth and ability to do a serious comedy role.

Martin’s script reportedly came from several dark episodes he has experienced over the past decade, which would explain the somewhat “flat” nature of his portrayal of Bobby Bowfinger, a 49-year-old filmmaker living on his last dime and the fantasy that he can make his dream come true. Bowfinger is every wannabe in Hollywood who never made it and never will, except in the loony logic of a film such as this.

Martin’s portrayal of Bowfinger is mostly a walk-through. The only scenes in which Martin truly shines are mere slapstick vignettes: swapping suits at a men’s designer clothing store; “borrowing” a Mercedes from a studio lot; or lamely watering down a bottle of “Screwtop Red” for a seductive evening with Heather Graham.

The star of this film is Murphy, who is right on target in his dual roles and shows he’s not afraid to make fun of himself. Murphy plays action superstar Kit Ramsey, a multimillionaire with all the phobias and paranoia that come with the job. He also plays lookalike loser Jif, whose singular desire is to be an errand boy, because it gives him a sense of accomplishment. Kit, on the other hand, leaves his mission-in-life seeking up to his mentor, Terence Stamp, leader of a Scientology-like cult bearing the slogan that Kit has taken as inspiration for his name: “Keep it together.”

The scene which introduces us to Kit is a masterpiece. His white scriptwriter (Barry Newman) is trying vainly to defend his choice of taglines for Kit’s latest ultraviolent film. Kit accuses him of putting just so many K’s in the script that, when divided by 3, equals a certain number of repetitions of KKK, thus making him a pawn of the white man. He accentuates this final comment by shooting off a gun into a drum kit.

The supporting cast carry out their one-note joke characterizations very, very well. Christine Baranski’s talents are wasted in the role of an overly theatrical thespian with lofty aspirations. Heather Graham fits the star-struck Hollywood bimbo role a little too well. Terence Stamp and Robert Downey, Jr., could have phoned in their roles, but they are professional enough to prevent their boredom from showing.

On the whole BOWFINGER is full of laughs, and it’s great to see these two comedians working together in a worthwhile effort. But there are dark places in this comedy—it lacks some of the earnest fun of MYSTERY MEN—which prevents it from being a classic comedy. Still, Murphy and Martin make this the second-best comedy of the summer, and the best film in either of their careers in quite some time.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago and is a devout Bears fan, and therefore deserving of our sympathy.

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