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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Bowfinger

Starring: Steve Martin, Eddy Murphy
Director: Frank Oz
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 97 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genre: Comedy

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Our institutions are flawed. For moviegoers, that's a good thing. If the establishment were perfect, what would we do for laugh-out-loud screen parodies? During the past 12 months we've had a take-off on beauty contests, ("Drop Dead Gorgeous" which turned ugly when it attacked vulnerable, handicapped people), a send-up of horror movies ("Lake Placid," a thoroughly amusing shark-fest that underscored the failure of the lame-scripted "Deep Blue Sea" that followed it), and of karate films (Jackie Chan in "Rush Hour," as the uncomfortable partner of a motormouth cop). The best subject for parody, though, is the movie industry itself, an enterprise which has been criticized for being concerned only with money, for dumbing down its subject matter to bring in the lowest common denominator to the theaters, and for swamping the multiplexes to such an extent that a personal film has a difficult time indeed finding a constituency. Who better to satirize the studios than one of the largest studios itself?

Universal's "Bowfinger" uses two of the trade's sharpest comics to turn out a howlingly funny lampoon of big studio domination. The film focuses on a producer-director of a small outfit ironically called Bowfinger International run by Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin), who hopes to make a movie with his budget of $2,184, saved by putting $1 a week into a kitty from the time he was ten years old. Unfortunately the actor he wants would probably not consider even looking at a script for ten times that figure. This does not stop the title character, who comes across with a bold idea: superstar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) will star in his film without even knowing that he's in the movie. How Bowfinger follows the luminary around the streets of Hollywood, capturing him on celluloid without the man's awareness. is the concept that delivers the almost non-stop guffaws and chuckles.

An original screenplay by Steve Martin himself, "Bowfinger" is directed by Frank Oz (known to the younger set as puppet-performer Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back" and to hip college kids and others for directing the wonderful musical parody "Little Shop of Horrors"). The movie opens as Bowfinger is about to get his phone service cut off for non- payment. But Bobby is nothing if not determined, inspired and disciplined. Bent on making a low-budget sci-fi entry about an alien takeover of the Earth entitled "Chubby Rain," he enlists his loyal team of actors. Carol (Christine Baranski) is well-suited for her nouveau-riche revenge-character role and screenwriter Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle) has turned up a script that Bowfinger considers a masterpiece. With a would-be cameraman, he rounds up a crew of Mexicans who are one step ahead of Immigration and sets out to capture Kit on his hidden camera. Kit is the perfect person to play a man terrified by aliens as he is has a paranoid personality and is being treated by Terri Stricter (Terence Stamp) at a luxurious, California-style est-type enterprise called MindHead.

While the comedy hangs together quite well, "Bowfinger" accommodates a series of fast-moving skits, each of which is able to stand alone as a Saturday-Nite Live type of entertainment. The best minutes in the movie come as Bowfinger locates the restaurant table occupied by hot-shot producer Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey, Jr.) and tries unsuccessfully to get his backing of the film by taking an adjacent table and speaking loudly on his cell phone, allegedly to Kit Ramsey--whom Renfro has been unable to contact. Heather Graham does wonderful work as Daisy, an Ohio naif who travels to Hollywood seeking work as an actress and learns very quickly which people she has to bed to get a leading role. Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin make sparks together with Murphy in the dual role of Kit Ramsey and Kit's developmentally disabled brother--who declares that he not only aspires to the job of errand runner but holds that "running errands would be a boost to my career."

The company introduces us to amusing side characters in brief roles such as one young, untalented woman who turns up for an audition but is found by Bowfinger to have "the personality of a zip code in Kansas." Betsy the dog, who has been well-trained in obedience, does her part to further terrify the already paranoid Kit by following him through an indoor parking garage wearing high-heeled shoes. Each time Kit turns quickly around to see the source of the clackety clack, he observes nothing at all, furnishing him a wide-eyed look of terror.

Having spoofed schlock alien films unmercifully and, in a concluding scene taking aim at Hong Kong martial arts fare, "Bowfinger" accomplishes its task of mocking the entire industry of profit-hungry big studios in a movie that will probably take in sacks of money for the big studio that's releasing it.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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