Bowfinger

Bowfinger. Imagine Entertainment 1999.
Bowfinger. Imagine Entertainment 1999.

Before watching the movie:

Why haven’t I seen this movie? Well, it’s PG-13, and I was ten or eleven when it came out. But why haven’t I seen it since? I’m not sure why I never circled around to it. Eventually I started doing this blog and I knew when I saw it, I’d have to review it here, which has a tendency to slow things down. But Steve Martin and 80s-90s Eddie Murphy together make for a film I’d have to experience eventually.

I always had some concept of the plot as being about a scam going down, so I was picturing something like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. But then a movie is involved, so maybe it was more like After the Fox. It turns out, the scam is that a box office superstar is getting tricked into acting in a no-budget film for free, I guess via hidden cameras. This is going to be fun.

After watching the movie:

Robert Bowfinger’s one-man production company hasn’t gotten a picture in months, and all his friends are losing confidence in his ability to get them work. Then Bowfinger reads a script he really believes in and convinces everybody this is the one. Except he can only get the money to make it if he can sign Hollywood’s biggest action star Kit Ramsey, and Hollywood’s biggest action star Kit Ramsey said no. But Bowfinger can’t bring himself to let down his friends, so he tells them the movie is a go, only Kit’s provisions were that they only get to do one take of each scene, he doesn’t want to meet with anybody off-set, and seeing the camera would ruin his concentration. Kit then starts getting randomly accosted by strange people talking nonsense to him that just happens to play into his paranoid delusions of alien invasions, and Bowfinger has it all on film.

This movie has been oversold. It’s incredibly funny at times, but it didn’t strike me as the absurd, ridiculous masterpiece everyone’s built it up as. I think I knew that Steve Martin wrote this movie as well as starring in it, though I didn’t remember knowing that when I saw his credit on screen. I don’t think it’s up to the level of beauty and weirdness I’ve come to expect from his work, but then one can hardly expect a feature-length Candid Camera stunt to be as weird as a matchmaking traffic notice sign. I might have been better off not to know he wrote it, since it’s a good comedy, but it’s one I wouldn’t have been surprised to see written by anyone else.

A lot was made of Kit’s religion/therapy MindHead. My first thought was that it was a trendy, Scientology-ish cult, but most of what we see of it is just Kit talking out his neuroses to Terrence Stamp, which seems like harmless psychotherapy, until they start taking a more active role in Kit’s breakdown. Martin meant it as a pastiche of every fad religion he’d seen pass through Hollywood, but it does seem a lot like Scientology, maybe even moreso today, since it’s lasted.

Eddie Murphy gets to play multiple characters again. Halfway through the movie, Bowfinger needs more access to Kit than he can get, so he casts a lookalike also played by Murphy, but with a completely dissimilar personality. (But officially hires him as a gopher so he doesn’t have to pay a lookalike’s salary.) While Kit is in the vein of early action comedy star Eddie Murphy, Jiff is goofy and shy and I’m sure there’s a better character to compare him to than Donkey, but the comedy tone seems about the same.

As a story about trying to scrape out a movie on a shoestring budget, this is somewhat familiar. I’ve worked in low-budget guerrilla productions with recognizable people, but they knew they were on camera. It also sends up Hollywood culture smartly, though not to the level of parody I might have hoped. It’s a lot of fun, but not the legend I’d been led to believe.

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