Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Bowfinger

By Russell Smith

AUGUST 23, 1999: 

D: Frank Oz; with Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Robert Downey Jr. (PG-13, 96 min.)

With oceanic chutzpah compensating for eyedropper rations of talent and funding, Z-list director Bobby Bowfinger (Martin) sets out to make a movie starring action superstar Kit Ramsey (Murphy) -- without the actor's knowledge. The plan is to stalk Ramsey around with a hidden camera, documenting his terrorized responses to the Bowfinger players' scripted ambushes. The resulting footage is incorporated into a godawful sci-fi yarn that benefits from the clinically paranoid Ramsey's credulousness about the references of his "co-stars" to alien invasions and pod people. Now there's a movie I'd pay to see! Not sure I'd say the same for this lackluster, commodity-grade summer comedy, which delivers just enough laughs to keep you from feeling blatantly shortchanged but not enough to ward off wistful memories of the days when Steve Martin seemed to, you know... give a shit. Remindful of those tabloid stories about live babies born to comatose women, screenwriter Martin's formidable talent delivers fitful bursts of off-the-wall wit and effective satire (mainly skewering easy targets like Scientology, L.A. movie culture, and brain-dead blockbuster films) despite a bare minimum of discernible effort on his part. Murphy actually comes closest to earning his paycheck with a funny, energetic double role as the paranoid prima donna Ramsey and his benignly dorkish brother, whom Bowfinger hires as a stunt double. And Martin, even in his fat and comfy artistic senescence, is still an endearing comic actor, especially when he's playing amoral, blissfully unself-aware obsessives like Bobby Bowfinger. Nevertheless, this movie falls light years short of such previous Oz-Martin collaborations as Little Shop of Horrors and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, both of which managed far more artful blends of whimsy, wit, and satirical bite. Given my innate tendency to seek scapegoats for all manner of screw-ups and failures, it's tempting to blame the pervasive influence of the Farrelly brothers for Bowfinger's lazy attempts to skate by on goofball charm. But that would actually be insulting to the brothers who, modestly talented though they are, at least exhibit the admirable work ethic of cinematic Pete Roses. To extend the baseball analogy, Martin is more of a Carlos Baerga type: a Grade-A talent and former all-star who seemingly has resigned himself to profitable mediocrity at a stage when his career ought to be in full flower. As a diehard Martin fan, I'm still hoping for a comeback, but it'll take better efforts than this to get me back in his cheering section.

2.5 Stars

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