Bowfinger (review)

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All for Love

There’s something simple and pure about those who pursue an avocation in the face of constant rejection and plain lack of talent, all because they just can’t not.

Bobby Bowfinger and his crew are dangerously awful at making movies, but they all adore the glamour and glitz of the biz.

Bobby (Steve Martin: The Out-of-Towners, The Spanish Prisoner) is the sole proprietor behind Bowfinger International Pictures, whose output seems to consists of movies that only the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 could love, like A Bucket of Blondes and The Yugo Story. But those dubious days of glory are in the past. Creditors are leaving menacing messages on his machine. His principal actors are threatening to leave town in search of work. Even his dog has given up on him. So when Bobby reads a script for a sci-fi action movie called Chubby Rain, a “masterpiece” written in 12 days by his accountant, and declares it the best script he’s ever read, we’re not quite sure if he genuinely hasn’t a clue about what makes a good movie or if he’s so desperate to be behind the camera again that he’s fooling himself as well as his equally clueless filmmaking friends.

But Bobby’s enthusiasm is infectious, and he soon has his regulars worked into a frenzy of excitement over Chubby Rain. There’s Carol the actress, the theater pro whose dignity and style cannot hide the fact that she’s a terrible ham; Christine Baranski (Bulworth) invokes the spirit of Carol Burnett to give Carol comedic weight. Daisy, right off the bus from Ohio, has given herself a week to become a movie star; Heather Graham (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Lost in Space), who keeps getting better and better, makes Daisy so sweetly and innocently exploitive — this is a girl who knows what it takes to make it in Hollywood — that you can’t help but cheer her on. Dave (Jamie Kennedy: Enemy of the State) risks jail time, “borrowing” equipment and fancy cars for Bobby from the big studio where he runs errands, all for the chance to work on a movie. Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle), the scriptwriter, quits his accounting job now that he’s fulfilling his dream. Slater (Kohl Sudduth: 54) is the cute dumb actor who asks Bobby if he’s got It; Slater doesn’t, but Sudduth does.

Bowfinger really takes off when Bobby tells his friends that action megastar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy: Mulan) will be starring in Chubby Rain — even though Ramsey threw Bobby out of his house without even looking at the script. So Bobby follows Kit around with a hidden camera, sending his actors up to deliver lines about aliens and invasions that only serve to drive the already paranoid and delusional actor more crazy and ratchet the comedy up to a new level, from ironic pathos to broader, more physical humor that still retains its satirical, intellectual basis. Only Dave is in on the secret of Chubby Rain — Bobby convinces the others that their guerrilla filmmaking is actually “cinema nouveau.”

And when Bobby needs a stand-in for Ramsey, he hires lookalike Jiff (also Murphy), a dork whose movie experience is limited to renting at Blockbuster. While Murphy is great as Kit, practically sending himself up as the huge movie star, he really shines as Jiff, reminding us that Murphy can actually act. A gentle naif, Jiff is happy to have found a group of friends who accept him for who he is — and not for the secret reason most people want to be around him — and who genuinely sees integrity in something as simple as fetching the coffee.

Chubby Rain may be a disaster in the making, but Bowfinger itself, written by Martin, has one of the best scripts to hit the screen this year: slyly and outrageously funny, by turns edgy and sweet. I suspect that Bobby Bowfinger is more Steve Martin than appearances might suggest. Obviously, on the surface Martin does not share much with his frantically despondent character, but running through the movie is a tone of exasperation with Hollywood’s way of doing business — is Kit Ramsey’s latest blockbuster, Explicit Endeavor, likely to be much better than Chubby Rain? — that must be as equally frustrating to a genius like Martin as it is to a loser like Bobby. I get the impression that Martin — and perhaps director Frank Oz (In and Out), too — feel that there’s not much work being done in Hollywood with love and care, and too much with mindless greed.

Like Ed Wood meets Waiting for Guffman meets The Blair Witch Project, Bowfinger is made with as much love as Chubby Rain — and it’s a whole lot better.

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