Friday August 13, 1999
People bring out the best in Eddie Murphy: the more of them he plays on screen, the drop-dead funnier he becomes.
While Murphy doesn't turn into an entire family in "Bowfinger" as he did in "The Nutty Professor," he is able, with the help of writer and co-star Steve Martin, to create two completely different characters whose cumulative comic impact is overwhelming.
It was Martin who came up with the idea for this likable albeit hit-and-miss farce, directed by Frank Oz, which deals with low-rent dreamers on the fringes of the movie business determined to make it big in Hollywood.
Martin has the right touch for Bobby Bowfinger, the alpha and omega of Bowfinger International Pictures, a company so threadbare even schlockmeister Ed Wood would've looked down on it. But it's Murphy who has the showier and funnier part, or parts, and he makes the most of it, or them.
Murphy is first met as Kit Ramsey, a.k.a. "the hottest, sexiest action star in the world." But though the man has the requisite mansion, fancy cars and entourage, success has not brought him mental stability. Far from it.
Murphy takes special and biting glee in delivering Ramsey's delusional tirades--his fury at getting scripts that make extensive use of the letter "K" (they remind him of the KKK) and his disgust that while white actors get all the good punch lines black actors only win Oscars when they play slaves. It's no wonder that he seeks the help of MindHead (a clever spoof of Scientology-type organizations), where cool Terry Stricter (Terence Stamp) is in charge and believers walk around with triangles on their heads.
Ordinarily, someone like Bobby Bowfinger would never cross Kit Ramsey's path. A producer-director so impoverished he shoplifts his wardrobe and can't pay a $5.43 phone bill, Bowfinger's past credits include the Glendale Tent Players' production of "Once Upon a Mattress" and a film called "The Yugo Story" (it's about the car, not the country). But dreams die hard, and Bowfinger's latest is a script called "Chubby Rain."
Written by his accountant (Adam Alexi-Malle), "Chubby Rain's" story of aliens disguised as raindrops sounds like a winner to Bowfinger. When top executive Jerry Renfro (a Robert Downey Jr. cameo) tells him he might go for it with Kim Ramsey attached, Bowfinger tells his crack team of dimwits ("the most promising group of young professionals I've ever worked with") to get ready to go.
These include a star-struck ingenue from Ohio (Heather Graham), a handsome if limited actor (Kohl Sudduth), an overly dramatic leading lady (Christine Baranski) and a studio gofer-cameraman (Jamie Kennedy) who knows how to walk off the lot with any piece of equipment that's not tied down.
What the group doesn't include is Kit Ramsey, who, not surprisingly, wants nothing to do with "Chubby Rain." Fueled by desperation and feeling his last chance slipping away, Bowfinger comes up with a lunatic idea: He'll follow Ramsey around town and secretly film him interacting with the cast members. "Kit doesn't want to see the camera," he tells his own gullible actors. "It breaks his concentration."
Murphy is especially funny in the scenes of panicky befuddlement that result when these strangers come up to him talking "some secret white language I can't decode." His confusion eventually leads to chaos, which is where Jiff, a look-alike for Ramsey that Bowfinger hires when his unknowing star proves temporarily unavailable, enters the picture.
As the innocent, glasses-and-braces-wearing Jiff, someone whose show business experience is limited to being "an active renter at Blockbuster" and who would consider a career running errands to be a major break, Murphy has even more fun than he does with Ramsey. And it's his zeal for creating such disparate comic characters that gives "Bowfinger" its particular zest.
For Murphy has the ability, not shared by all comics or even all actors, to convincingly become different people with different voices and even different physical auras. Playing multiple characters seems to liberate a kind of energy in him, as it did in Peter Sellers, an energy that heats up Martin's cool, cerebral humor and helps it ignite.
"Bowfinger" has its share of down time, proves better at its set pieces than in the continuity between them, and also misses Murphy when he's not on the screen. But given how many people he plays, it's not long before someone shows up to make us laugh.
Bowfinger, 1999. PG-13, for sex-related material and language. Imagine Entertainment presents a Brian Grazer production released by Universal Pictures. Director Frank Oz. Producer Brian Grazer. Executive producers Karen Kehela, Bernie Williams. Screenplay Steve Martin. Cinematographer Ueli Steiger. Editor Richard Pearson. Costumes Joseph G. Aulisi. Music David Newman. Production design Jackson Degovia. Art director Tom Reta. Set decorator K.C. Fox. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Steve Martin as Bowfinger. Eddie Murphy as Kit Ramsey, Jiff Ramsey. Heather Graham as Daisy. Christine Baranski as Carol. Jamie Kennedy as Dave. Robert Downey Jr. as Jerry Renfro.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times