Bowfinger

The con is on in “Bowfinger,” a wildly amusing, big grin of a comedy. Sharply written by Steve Martin and smartly directed by Frank Oz, “Bowfinger” is the perfect antidote to the end of the summer blues.


bowfingersbigthingThe humor and situations in “Bowfinger” are like a cool, relaxing breeze. They sweep over you with an intoxicating blend of pleasure and fulfillment. Even when it starts to crumble under its own weight, “Bowfinger” remains a welcome diversion.

Fortunately, when ever things start heading South, everyone involved rallies like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on prison visitation day. I appreciate smart comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and “Bowfinger” made me smile a lot.

The premise is ripe for picking. Steve Martin plays Bobby Bowfinger, possibly one of Hollywood’s least appreciated talented. Obviously they never sat through his epic “The Yugo Story.” Late one night after reading a screenplay, Bowfinger believes he has a hit on his hands.

It’s an science-fiction film called “Chubby Rain,” because the aliens arrive in raindrops, which makes them chubby. Now that Bowfinger has a marketable script, he needs backing. His pursuit of a hot Hollywood agent (Robert Downey Jr.) lands him a deal. If Bowfinger can land action box office star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) as the lead, he can make his film.

“Chubby Rain” couldn’t have come at a better time for Bowfinger’s usual troupe of talent, who are desperately seeking work elsewhere. Now all Bowfinger has to do is land Ramsey. When Ramsey literally tosses Bowfinger to the pavement, Bowfinger must come up with a plan to make the movie.

Bowfinger’s plan is to follow Ramsey around with a film crew, and have his actors interact when him without his knowledge. Bowfinger convinces the actors that Ramsey is such a perfectionist that he doesn’t want any contact with them until their scene together. It’s a great conceit, one realized with an amazing amount of intelligence and thought by Martin’s screenplay and the delightful cast.

Even at its most wild abandon, “Bowfinger” never loses its focus. There are a couple of amusing side trips, but they resonant. Unlike some comedies that throw everything against a wall to see what sticks, there’s nothing in “Bowfinger” that seems extraneous. Everything and everyone involved have a purpose.

When Ramsey begins to fear for his life and hides out in a Scientology-like retreat called Mind Head, Bowfinger must scramble and find a double in order to complete his film.

Enter Jiff Ramsey (Eddie Murphy, once again), a naive young man still in braces. Jiff’s goal is to be a great errand boy, but doesn’t mind starring in the film when he’s not fetching coffee.

Murphy’s ability to create believable characters takes center stage here. He makes it easy for us to believe that Kit and Jiff are actually two different people. While this deception isn’t nearly as elaborate as it was in “The Nutty Professor” and “Coming to America,” the transformation is equally effective.

Martin is better here than he has been in a while, and manages to make Bowfinger more than just a stereotypical Hollywood bottom feeder. Even at his most desperate, you understand that this guy appreciates the company he keeps.

Heather Graham has fun with the young ingenue just off the bus who has given herself a week to become a star, while Christine Baranski shines as the veteran actress who wouldn’t know a good performance if it bit her on the nose, while Kohl Sudduth and Jamie Kennedy have nice moments as crew members who fall under Graham’s spell.

This is the fourth collaboration between director Frank Oz and Martin, and they are indeed a happy couple. Every time they get together they make me laugh out loud, and this film reminded me of their “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

“Bowfinger” is a film that screams high concept, yet never takes the high road. Martin’s screenplay is smart and funny, with engaging characters and a terrific premise. What more could you ask for?

THE FILM-FLAM MAN

BOWFINGER

Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Jamie Kennedy, Kohl Sudduth, Robert Downey Jr. in a film directed by Frank Oz. Rated PG-13. 100 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $7



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