Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Bowfinger

Grade : A Year : 1999 Director : Frank Oz Running Time : 1hr 37min Genre :
Movie review score
A

As with Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood,” Frank Oz’s “Bowfinger” is a great film about terrible filmmaking. This one is wholly made up, though, as Steve Martin’s Bobby Bowfinger tries to make an action/sci-fi action film with the biggest star in Hollywood…without the star knowing it. I know when I went into making my own film back in 2005-06, I had “Bowfinger” on the brain every step of the way. Of course, the way Bowfinger goes about making “Chubby Rain” is about the last way to make a film, not the least of which is because of its legality, but it’s damn-near inspiring in the imaginative ways that Bowfinger and his guerrilla crew of misfits make the film.

Martin wrote the script himself, and he imbues Bobby Bowfinger with a delightfully witty idea of modern Hollywood conventions. No, not every movie costs $2,184 in cash. Yes, Tom Cruise knew he was in “Interview With the Vampire” when he was making it. And no, you can’t blackmail your way into finishing a film. But he and director Frank Oz make the journey of “Chubby Rain” a joyous one for film buffs and novices alike. The reason is simple. Just like in “Ed Wood,” we can see how cheesy the film they’re making is, but it’s the affection they have for the process that matters most. The first shot is Bowfinger pouring over the script for “Chubby Rain” written by his accountant (Afrim, played by Adam Alexi-Malle), and the awe in his face afterwards signals the same passion that will drive him over the next 90 minutes to make the film. He calls his close-knit friends- Afrim, his lackey Dave (Jamie Kennedy), who will be his cameraman, and actors Carol (Christine Baranski) and Slater (Kohl Sudduth)- together and the journey is off, although a bribed-for meeting with studio exec Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.) leads to a series of events that leads to him lying about being able to get Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy), the biggest star in the world, to star in the movie. How he pulls that off without Kit knowing drives the film, and it’s a treat every step of the way.

It’s time now to discuss Eddie Murphy. This is probably my favorite Eddie Murphy performance; well, performances, as he also plays Jiff, a nerdy errand boy Bowfinger hires for close shots and scenes when Kit disappears for a few days. Murphy and Martin (as the writer) do a brilliant job of making both of these characters complete roles rather than just riding off of cliches, although there’s plenty of that- that’s where a big part of the comedy comes from, after all. But whether he’s showing Kit’s paranoia or Jiff’s geeky side, we understand these characters and care about them. That’s an important quality, because it’s easy to forget that Kit is, actually, a victim in this film of Bowfinger’s obsession to make his movie. Still, it’s hard to get too worked up over Kit’s victimhood when we see how transparently shallow he is. Like any star, he demands fealty to his whims and ideas, even if they’re as crazy as scanning a script into his computer and finding “KKK” 486 times, taking a body double with him to try on clothes, or attending his meetings at Mind Head, which only exasperate his paranoid thinking with trite pop psychology that leads to him chanting, “Keep. It. Together,” ’cause, you know, everyone needs an inspirational saying using the letters of their name. It was obvious when the film came out that Mind Head, and it’s controlling leader (Terence Stamp), were a spoof on Scientology, but after a decade of further exposure for the organization, you’d rather wish what we see at Mind Head was all Scientology was. Still, we understand what Kit is talking about when he’s complaining about the scripts he gets not being as juicy as what his white, unintelligible counterparts get, and how it seems to take roles as slaves for black actors to win Oscars. You would think “Chubby Rain” is right up his ally, then, with its final line of, “Gotcha Suckas!” He gives the movie his all…he just doesn’t realize it’s a movie, and that is where the comedy comes from. Murphy is brilliant as Kit, but arguably better as Jiff, who Bobby stumbles upon auditioning for a stand-in for his wayward star. It fits with Murphy’s MO of makeup and goofy multiple roles, but we sympathize with Jiff when all the cards are on the table. He didn’t ask for the life he’s leading, and that takes on bigger meaning than we realize after a surprising revelation after shooting one day. Oz and Martin have given Murphy a tour de force opportunity in this film, and he digs into it with aplomb.

There’s so much that I love about this movie. The parking garage shoot at Mind Head, and pretty much Mind Head, in general. Heather Graham as Daisy, a hopeful actress from Ohio who figures out, quite quickly, the fastest way up the Hollywood ladder. Baranski’s poignant outlook on Bowfinger’s deception, which gets to the heart of the film’s love of what Bobby’s trying to do. Murphy explaining to his agent why white actors get Oscars, and the type of role a black man needs to win one. Bobby rounding up his crew, and the way they take to their work. And finally, the looks on their faces when they see their work on the big screen. That gets to the romance of making movies, and it’s something “Bowfinger” thrives on, in addition to being hilariously funny.

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